David Brooks on Big Data

David Brooks in NYT: “Over the past few centuries, there have been many efforts to come up with methods to help predict human behavior — what Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic calls mathematizing the subjective. The current one is the effort to understand the world by using big data.

Other efforts to predict behavior were based on models of human nature. The people using big data don’t presume to peer deeply into people’s souls. They don’t try to explain why people are doing things. They just want to observe what they are doing. The theory of big data is to have no theory, at least about human nature. You just gather huge amounts of information, observe the patterns and estimate probabilities about how people will act in the future….

One of my take-aways is that big data is really good at telling you what to pay attention to. It can tell you what sort of student is likely to fall behind. But then to actually intervene to help that student, you have to get back in the world of causality, back into the world of responsibility, back in the world of advising someone to do x because it will cause y.”