O’Reilly: The Future is in the Data

Revolution Computing blog:

Tim O’Reilly’s keynote talk at OSBC this evening was thought-provoking to say the least. The title of the talk was “The Real Open Source Opportunity”, and the surprise for me was that he wasn’t talking about Open Source software. Tim’s insight, and it’s a profound one, is that the next frontier for freedom and openness — and indeed, the way we’ll live our lives — lies with data.

Why? The world in which open source software was born is very different from the world we’re heading to. Less than a decade ago, a major concern of the computing world was that much of the capability and innovation was locked up in closed software held by major corporations, like Microsoft. Open-source software addressed that. But look where innovation lies today: companies like Google (and few others) –built on the backs of open-source technology, mind you — can now perform tasks that not long ago were the realm of science fiction. Today, you can speak a question into a tiny handheld gadget, and find out where to get good pizza. But think for a moment how Google can do this reliably and quickly: it’s their data. They’ve amassed a massive, proprietary database of search queries, written text, and voice samples that allow the Google Voice Search app on the iPhone (and algorithms in Google’s cloud servers) to distinguish “pizza” (said in on a noisy street in a Jersey accent) from “piece of” or the city “Pisa”. Tim was careful to point out: it’s not the closed algorithms that make this work. Peter Norvig from Google has said it himself: Google doesn’t have better algorithms than everyone else. They just have more data.

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