There is plenty of anecdotal evidence of the payoff from data-first thinking. The best-known is still “Moneyball,” the 2003 book by Michael Lewis, chronicling how the low-budget Oakland A’s massaged data and arcane baseball statistics to spot undervalued players. Heavy data analysis had become standard not only in baseball but also in other sports, including English soccer, well before last year’s movie version of “Moneyball,” starring Brad Pitt.
Artificial-intelligence technologies can be applied in many fields. For example, Google’s search and ad business and its experimental robot cars, have navigated thousands of miles of California roads, both use a bundle of artificial-intelligence tricks. Both are daunting Big Data challenges, parsing vast quantities of data and making decisions instantaneously.
The wealth of new data, in turn, accelerates advances in computing – a virtuous circle of Big Data. Machine-learning algorithms, for example, learn on data, and the more data, the more the machines learn. Take Siri, the talking, question-answering application in iPhones, which Apple introduced last fall. Its origins go back to a Pentagon research project that was then spun off as a Silicon Valley start-up. Apple bought Siri in 2010, and kept feeding it more data. Now, with people supplying millions of questions, Siri is becoming an increasingly adept personal assistant, offering reminders, weather reports, restaurant suggestions and answers to an expanding universe of questions.
Google searches, Facebook posts and Twitter messages, for example, make it possible to measure behavior and sentiment in fine detail and as it happens. In business, economics and other fields, decisions will increasingly be based on data and analysis rather than on experience and intuition.
Retailers, like Walmart and Kohl’s, analyze sales, pricing and economic, demographic and weather data to tailor product selections at particular stores and determine the timing of price markdowns. Shipping companies, like U.P.S., mine data on truck delivery times and traffic patterns to fine-tune routing. Police departments across the country, led by New York’s, use computerized mapping and analysis of variables like historical arrest patterns, paydays, sporting events, rainfall and holidays to try to predict likely crime “hot spots” and deploy officers there in advance. Data-driven decision making” achieved productivity gains that were 5 percent to 6 percent higher than other factors could explain.