Response: By the numbers

In the April 27th – May 3rd 2013 Edition of The Economist, I read an article titled “By the numbers” about public databases and citizens efforts fixing problems and creating order from chaos. As the author points out, technology today collects and stores so many little stupid detailed numbers. Companies could pay an individual or even a team of elite and professional data analyzers to go in and make something useful, or, in Chicago’s case, make the data public and let anyone go in to do whatever they want with the data.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of this open source tactic: Wikipedia, Firefox, and Linux are examples. And let’s not forget to mention how incredibly helpful and successful Wikipedia is, I’ve probably visited the site multiple times daily since high school. It’s very interesting to note how successful these open source programs are when compared to their counterparts. Can you even name a website that rivals Wikipedia? Rumors that more and more supercomputers are starting to run on some type of Linux software. This is absolutely incredible, but at the same time, shouldn’t this be blatantly obvious? What can be more efficient and effective than hundreds or thousands of different types of minds working to solve a common problem? Why pay a team of individuals to solve a problem when you can make the data public and allow any and all eager minds of the citizens to reach a solution? Even if no apparent problem exists, people naturally find ways to use data to make life for themselves and others easier. The author of the article references a program created to show others which streets have been cleared after a snowfall. Chances are, no one paid, or even asked, this individual to do this. People go out of their way to help others and solve problems. I have an idea, what if the medical community takes this approach? Instead of hundreds of organizations seeking to find cures and treatments, why not gather groups of data to share with those with the same goal?

I can tell you right now, from experience, that groups trump individuals. In one of my engineering classes at Texas A&M University, if given a problem to solve, individually, almost no one in the class could solve it rapidly. Let everyone work in groups where collaboration is essential and the same problem can be solved in a fraction of the time and in most cases is more accurate. I discovered this early my freshman year, and since then I will always work in a group when studying rather than by myself. I could see the world becoming more and more open source in various industries within my lifetime. Why? Because it works, it’s cheap, and its outrageously effective. Sounds like Chicago has the right idea in mind, maybe we should put our heads together and follow suit.

Thanks for reading!

Please comment, I’m interested in what others opinions are on this subject.

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