In this Big Data series, I've explained the concepts of the technology and how this new movement is seeking to pull in disparate data sources, collected over decades, and consolidate the information into meaningful, actionable material. I then provided some real world concepts to help you better understand the true value and capability for succeeding in making the practices work.  In the last two installments, I presented an overview and then detailed look into how Big Data services can work for government agencies and organizations. So, by now, you should have a good understanding of what Big Data is and have some ideas of its potential for you and your organization.

As with any burgeoning new technology concept, Big Data has a pretty large roadmap and a lot of room to grow. You should be excited that we're here, witnessing the birth of this technology. There is a very bright future ahead for all of us, should the movement succeed. But, there are clear goals and steps to get there. Once the information is in a manageable state, it has to actually tell us something – and it has to tell us something meaningful. And, even more than that, it should be able to anticipate what we want to know, and also what we should know. So, the next step in the Big Data scenario – the piece that will make the whole effort worthwhile – is Machine Learning.

Machine learning is the process of applying scientific principles and algorithms to data so that it can be automated to make predictions or decisions, rather than following only explicitly programmed instructions. The way things work now, the data is collected and then parsed and filtered in a manual way. Machine Learning on the other hand, eliminates the manual steps and provides an automated environment. In a very real sense, Machine Learning is a first step to Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Machine Learning, for some, represents a wayward step in the evolution of mankind. If you've ever watched any of the Terminator series of movies, AI (called SkyNet in the movies) has evolved to the point of not requiring human assistance and seeks to eliminate humankind. Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors Inc and SpaceX, submitted a warning over Twitter that rankled much of the science and technology sector. Musk said…

"We need to be super careful with AI. Potentially more dangerous than nukes."

But, while there is a very real danger if not careful, there are some very valuable dividends for investing resources into evolving Big Data processes with Machine Learning. The applications of Machine Learning are endless, ranging from very high-level scientific to every day consumer tasks. Some of these are…

  • Machine perception
  • Computer vision, including object recognition
  • Natural language processing
  • Medical diagnosis
  • Bioinformatics
  • Brain-machine interfaces
  • Cheminformatics
  • Detecting credit card fraud
  • Stock market analysis
  • Classifying DNA sequences
  • Sequence mining
  • Game playing
  • Robot locomotion
  • Computational advertising
  • Structural health monitoring
  • Sentiment analysis (or opinion mining)

As a real world example, imagine how Machine Learning and Big Data could eventually be part of every aspect of your day. Instead of waking with an alarm every morning, your connected home recognizes when you have had adequate sleep and then moderately wakes you with lights and sounds. Your thermostat has automatically raised the temperature a half hour prior so you won't be cold when your feet finally hit the floor. As you shower and dress for the day (the water temperature of the shower is perfect, by the way – based on your biogenetic makeup), a specific breakfast is created based on your health records, sleep patterns, recorded activities, electrolyte depletion, and mood.

Sound futuristic? It is. But, it's coming quickly. And, all because of our growing reliance on the Cloud and the growing importance of Big Data.

I hope you've learned a little something about Big Data in this series and I hope you see how valuable data consumption and organization can be. The future is definitely exciting and we truly are reaching a point only Sci-Fi authors dreamed of decades ago.

Rod Trent is the engagement director for the Penton Technology Group and the managing editor for American City & County sister brands, Windows IT Pro, SQL Server Pro, SharePoint Pro, Dev Pro, Power IT Pro, WinSuperSite and myITforum.com. He is a leading expert on Microsoft System Center and Cloud technologies and has more than 25 years of IT experience. Rod has written many books, thousands of articles, and speaks at various conferences and user groups. His professional focus is evangelizing technical community on the web and in person. Rod was a Microsoft MVP for 10 years and is a charter member of the Dell TechCenter Rockstar program.

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