It’s not Big-Data, it’s Big-Computer that’s making its presence felt in society

Including in forensic engineering in big and helpful ways – but, we must know and keep in mind what the computer is doing.

One of the mistakes experts make is not understanding the computer programs they use to analyse data and what the programs are based on (Ref. 1).  This would include the accuracy of the mathematical models relevant to the problem they’re investigating.

We’ve heard about the discrepancies in the predictions of different climate-change models.  I also noted in a recent posting (Ref. 2) that big-data is giving us correlations not causes – and it’s the latter that’s of paramount importance in forensic engineering.

Big-data refers to the ability of society to harness huge amounts of data in novel ways with today’s computers, and analyse the data to produce useful insights on people, or goods and services of significant value. (Ref. 3)  This is the “big-data” revolution.

But Big-Data is really all about Big-Computer power.

I was reminded of this on reading an item in the Globe and Mail recently on how our lives are being “datafied” in both good and not-so-good ways (Ref. 4).  (The item is a good read if you’re interested in staying up to date on what’s happening with big-data)  I also reflected on this after doing a preliminary literature search for a case on-line last week in a few hours that would have taken a few days a decade or more ago.

The computer is the common denominator in what was reported in the Globe and Mail and my literature search.  The computer is generating a lot of the data that is subsequently being gathered together and analysed – also by the computer.

For me, I was able to quickly get a handle on existing and past standards, codes of practice, and guidelines in North America and Europe via Google.  I was also able to review the science relevant to my problem at Wikipedia.  Both using computer power.

But, at the end of the day, I’ve got to check the sources and citations supporting this information lest I make the mistake experts sometimes do of not knowing the accuracy of their sources.  I’ve started on this and did a little by e-mailing and in due course conferring on the telephone with a consultant in Texas.

It was “big-computer” power that took me across the continent and overseas not “big-data”.  The data was there – in a computer database; the computer went to it, and scooped it up for me.


  1. Babitsky, Steven and Mangraviti, Jr., James J., The Biggest Mistakes Expert Witnesses Make and How to Avoid Them, SEAK, Inc, 2008
  2. Experts on the wane? Blog posted on this site on April 18, 2013
  3. Mayer-Schonberger, Victor and Cukier, Kenneth, Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2013
  4. The Globe and Mail, Thursday, May 9, 2013, page A21

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