Big data isn’t just growing in size and complexity, it’s also growing in terms of public recognition. Public understanding of big data, however, is still lagging behind a bit. It is the newest scientific paradigm and it’s being brought in to improve existing technologies and also to drive newer ones.

What is big data and what does it do?

One side-effect of the internet age is the staggering amount of information that’s created with pretty much every online move. Amazing amounts of information are created every hour, from emails, searches, text messages, online cosmetic orders, satnav searches – all involve data and create more data. This data doesn’t just disappear, it can be collected and analysed to look at human behaviour, as well as anything else you could care to mention.

It’s not just people who create data, either. If you have a smart home alarm system, for example, every time it pings back to the control centre that all’s well, that’s another data burst.

How do we use it in the real world, then?

The sheer amount of information we now have is changing the way we handle and learn from data. Companies like are leading the way when it comes to visualising the wealth of data the planet generates every day – streams of numbers aren’t exactly user-friendly so they need to be rendered intelligible to us mere humans. We need help to see the big picture both figuratively and literally. This is what big data can help us with.

Fighting disease

The data from MRI scans, X-rays, CT scans, patient surveys, medical records and all the other information coming from the field of medicine can be combined and analysed in entirely new ways so that we gain a greater understanding of diseases.

Exploring the universe

Big data is helping NASA and other space agencies to model distant planets. It also helps to model our immediate neighbours – the Curiosity rover craft “knew” what to expect when it landed on Mars, for example.

Making agriculture more efficient

We will be able to use our fields, equipment and techniques much more efficiently to reduce pesticides and to raise crop yields.

How does it work?

Quite simply, the more you know about something, the more you can predict how it will behave in the future. Big data helps us to make more connections between factors and causes – ones we may never have imagined – and these connections help us to make more predictions and decisions. They also help data analysts to run simulations to see how changes in some data sets lead to different outcomes.

It can all seem like too much

Which is why it’s a good job we have data visualisation software. There’s a tsunami of information pouring out of every home, office, phone, laptop every single day and it’s raw. It’s actually too raw to even turn into bar charts! This is where artificial intelligence comes in to make sense of all the information. Machines are faster to spot patterns than humans are and they’re also consistent and unbiased!