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Big Data at the service of humans?

Big Data at the service of humans?

Big Data at the service of humans?


We live in a society where information and data are considered the new oil or gold. The treatment of the latter is therefore an essential element. Hence the importance of big data. But what does “big data” mean? According to Célia Zolynski, associate professor of private law at the University of Versailles Saint Quentin, big data “refers to the capacity to process immense deposits of information, large masses of structured, semi-structured data in near real time. -structured, even unstructured and disparate in order to extract from their overlap new values ​​which had hitherto remained unknown ”. According to the Council of State, big data is defined by five characteristics, which we nickname the “5V”. The first V refers to a large volume of data processed. Indeed, we are talking about “big data”, therefore gigantic databases. To this volume is added the variety, this phenomenon refers to a multitude of heterogeneous sources, the data can come from social networks, databases, navigation data etc. The third V corresponds to the speed of processing in this data. Today, digital technology makes it possible to process data almost instantly. Everything always goes faster in a constantly changing world. To this velocity we can add veracity. The issue here is the reliability of the data used, they must not be false or biased by their processing. At last,The data, whatever they are, have no intrinsic value if the man does not bring his analysis to it. This is often what we forget, we should not be obsessed with computerization or the automation of manual tasks . Certainly, this saves time when the software is well programmed, but without the man all this is strictly useless. Standby software in itself does nothing. In some cases, if they are poorly programmed for lack of rigor, they can lead to counter-productivity or to analytical errors on the part of the watchman, which will therefore endanger the strategy for the entity. in which it operates.

According to some authors, big data has always existed, only in a form different from what we know today. Does big data allow advances for humans or is it only at the service of the search for ever more profit? We have little awareness of the money that is at stake for all of our data. Why is our data arousing so much interest, debate and greed? Is this justified or only at the heart of the fantasies of the actors of the digital society? What place does Man and his interests ultimately occupy in the midst of these billions of data?

In the first part, we will try to understand what big data can bring to humans. Then in a second part, we will see the rather negative consequences of big data, especially in terms of freedom in our lives.

       I. What Big Data brings to humans

As we introduced at the beginning of our article, it is common today to compare data to oil. Indeed, just like black gold, data is considered as a raw material that must be exploited, worked, or even refined to obtain a finished product. In our case, the objective is to arrive at a set of information useful for the decision. This thus refers to the three stages of Guillaumot’s information cycle theorized in 1990 that we must remember since it is an integral part of economic intelligence.The first step is to collect information via, for example, web and field monitoring of information. This is said to be raw. Then through the second step, it is a question of transforming this raw information into knowledge by mobilizing in particular two forms of intelligence, human intelligence and artificial intelligence. It should be noted here that artificial intelligence partly refers to intelligent software and computing power, and therefore to big data. Finally, this knowledge will be transformed into information useful for strategy, or even for economic action. These will be presented in summary form.

Thus, even if human intelligence and artificial intelligence are complementary, the fact remains that artificial intelligence, that is to say big data, occupies an increasingly important place in this information cycle, because the number of data collected continues to grow. More and more computing power is therefore needed to be able to process all this mass of data . But why so much interest in these collected data? Why mobilize such computing power in the processing of this data? What can they bring to humans? This is what we will try to understand through a series of examples that we have collected in part via the website of the Observatory of Big Data uses .

During his existence, Man often wishes to acquire power. It seems that big data can help him in this process. This is what we were able to identify through a 2014 report on big data. In fact, in the United States, during the 2012 presidential elections, Barack Obama used predictive analysis with the aim of his re-election. For this, his teams and his campaign manager, Rayid Ghani, used big data to such an extent that we were talking about the “Obama data campaign”.According to Rayid Ghani, the use of databases made it possible, on the one hand, to mobilize physical resources (volunteers, activists) and financial means (fundraising) and, on the other hand, to better target those who had a problem. political sensibility close to that of Obama, but which did not translate it in the ballot box . The goal was therefore to convince those people who hesitated to vote for Barack Obama on the day of the presidential election. So, for many, Obama won the 2012 presidential election largely thanks to big data.

To a lesser extent, during the French presidential elections of 2012, drawing inspiration from Barack Obama’s campaign, François Hollande and his teams also used big data to campaign. The use of big data has made it possible, for example, to better define the geographical areas in which it is necessary to accentuate the electoral door-to-door. The use of big data has also participated in the analysis of social media and the definition of strategies on them. This last point is particularly interesting given the place occupied by social networks in our current society. Indeed, according to Richard Rogers, “the traces left by Internet users during their online activities inform us about real social practices” (N. Smyrnaios and P. Ratinaud). We therefore see all the interest in practicing social media analysis because, as Guillaume Sylvestre, project manager for data monitoring and analysis at the Agency for the dissemination of technological information (Adit), points out, this makes it possible to “Understand the dynamics of exchanges / conversations within one or more communities, identify opinion leaders within networks, understand the links between communities and understand the formation of an opinion on a given subject ”. For this, it is possible to use certain tools such as Gephi which is free and open source software which “makes it possible in particular to separate user communities via the modularity algorithm proposed by Blondel and to use the algorithm of“ Betweenness Centrality ”, defined by the work of sociologist Linton Freeman”. Thus, with the help of this software, it is possible to map the relationships within a network . For example, “the links between pro and anti abortion sites; fighter jets: who sells what to whom? Careers of the enarques; European lobbies ”(G. Sylvestre). In addition, mapping also makes it possible to pick up weak signals. This is what Guillaume Sylvestre demonstrates through his article “Detecting weak signals by mapping tweets” (2016).

Another data visualization tool, Tableau Software. The latter makes it possible to “visualize data from an Excel file or any database [..], to create customizable visualizations: color, format, layout, cross-referencing of information….” (ibid) . As Guillaume Sylvestre indicates, the interest of using this software is threefold. It gives the possibility of “ad hoc valuing structured data via Excel within the framework of an analysis – particularly geographic or including multiple factors”, of “facilitating the production of infographics within the framework of a monitoring / analysis service on the long term ”and finally to“ have indicators and follow the evolution of data over time ”. Big data is therefore particularly suited to this context.

In a completely different area, that of security, big data is one of the means used to have a more secure world. Indeed, in Memphis in the United States, the authorities use a software called “Blue crush”. The latter allows predictive analysis of crime. The objective is in a way to predict the crimes before the act takes place. To do this, the software analyzes and sorts databases in real time which list all past crimes as well as a certain amount of information related to the territory.These analyzes result in probabilities that allow law enforcement to identify areas with a high probability of crime. These results are materialized in the form of maps and reports on which all the information is indicated. The police officers also receive these results on their smartphones, the patrols are thus better distributed during their interventions. They can organize themselves according to these results. The use of this software would have made it possible to significantly reduce offenses such as theft. However, its use has little impact on murders and rapes.

Another technique used in terms of security, analytical video. The objective is to find out of the thousands of hours recorded, the crimes committed as quickly as possible. Which, at the moment, takes a lot of time. Using video, it is also a matter of detecting, using algorithms, attitudes that are potentially dangerous for others, and more generally for society. This refers to behavioral targeting. For example, detecting the features on the faces that reflect the passage to the act. Ultimately, through these devices, it is a question of strengthening security.

Another area and not the least, where big data is used at different levels, that of health. In the United States, the US National Cancer Institute’s Genomic Data Commons has merged the two largest existing cancer databases to make progress on combining drugs and chemotherapy to treat individuals with these diseases . Big data, and in particular the analysis of algorithms, also make it possible to diagnose tumors in real time and to locate them precisely.

Other examples, using big data, medical researchers were able to identify the first physiological signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Big data also makes it possible to fight against heart attacks. Indeed, the Institute for Biomedicals Informactics collects cardiac recording data and processes them to predict the risk of cardiovascular events in real time.

Also on the American continent, the company Gliimpse, which was acquired by Apple, collects health data via several platforms and then aggregates it to develop global reports on the history of patients . These reports allow healthcare professionals to better diagnose and prescribe treatments.

Big data will also make it possible to fight against fraud in the field of medical care in the near future. How? ‘Or’ What ? By mapping doctors, their prescriptions, their activities and their patients. Mapping to compare and detect abnormal situations. This is partly the struggle of John Mininno, head of the National Healthcare Analysis Group.

In addition, big data via artificial intelligence makes it possible to create robots. For example, an association in Nantes is trying to develop robots that allow certain autistic people to come out of their silence. We are not unaware that France is far behind in this matter. Families suffer from it, it is a difficult pain on a daily basis. These robots allow them to awaken, to go out and free the parents of these children for a few hours a week. The same is true of robots in nursing homes. In France, we are trying to put in place technologies to allow the elderly to age better in retirement homes.Often, they are bored, no longer go out, and some no longer have family. Robots have therefore been developed to reproduce plays. The puppet even answers some questions. Big data therefore also responds to societal challenges.

Another sector close to health, that of personal service. For example, a French company, Senior @ home, responds to one of the current issues, namely how the elderly can continue to live at home for as long as possible under good conditions. The solution is in part, according to this company, to have a connected home in order to collect real-time data on the daily life of these elderly people in order to detect anomalies and intervene as quickly as possible.In China, a simple electronic card for the elderly allows access to free services and to have a few yuan from the government. The other advantage of this map is to collect a certain amount of data on their daily activities. These data are then analyzed in order to determine the health needs for this category of population. To live in better health and in more favorable conditions, that is the objective.

Cultivating using big data may seem surprising, but big data is at the heart of the agricultural sector. He participates in the transformation of the latter. Using satellites, data is collected and analyzed to find out, for example, the state of the soil. Based on these results, farmers will adapt their actions. For example, they will have recourse or not to fertilizers, to the sprinkler system. In France, the company InVivo designs, using algorithms, decision-support tools in the field of culture. She is also developing applications to predict crop yields. Another French company, Weenat, collects a number of data such as meteorological and agronomic values, temperature, humidity percentage with the aim of improving harvests and limiting the use of phytosanitary products. In Japan, for example, the Fujitsu company is developing so-called smart agriculture – that is, agriculture without insecticides and chemicals – using sensors and data analysis in order to monitor the environment on a daily basis.

Another means particularly used in the agricultural sector to collect data on the environment, the drone. The Bernard Magrez group (viticulture), for example, uses this device in order to increase the quality of their production.

In Brittany, the pork sector has become aware of the importance of data to such an extent that it has chosen to centralize all the information concerning pork production in a common database so that all those involved in this industry has access to it. The objective is to improve the competitiveness of this sector.

In addition, at the level of agricultural machinery, manufacturers, like John Deere, use connected objects and sensors to detect possible breakdowns on agricultural machinery and thus to plan the replacement parts to be provided for these breakdowns. . Big data thus helps to optimize agricultural production.

In terms of transport, big data is also involved at different levels. Collect data on road traffic in order to optimize traffic on the one hand, and improve road safety on the other hand. For example, in England, the company RedBite monitors the motorways in order to optimize access to ports. The company Immense Simulation mobilizes big data to help taxis be more efficient in their journeys. Optimizing traffic also involves better management of parking lots. This is what the American company is studying using sensors to measure the filling rate of car parks and thus set appropriate prices. Using big data, American research institutes are able to compare the transport networks of all cities in the country.With regard to road safety, the company Datakind Network (Sweden) uses big data to reduce the number of accidents and deaths on the roads.

Finally, concerning air transport, the American company Apache Spark studies a certain number of data such as meteorological data or past delays on flights in order to predict delays. As for the companies Boeing and Microsoft, they use big data in particular to work on predictive maintenance which is one of the important points in the transport sector. Big data enables advances in fuel economy and in the management of air flights. It is therefore a matter of collecting data to anticipate anomalies and be able to deal with them as quickly as possible. Moving more easily and more safely is now possible with the massive exploitation of data.

Very often, we are told that it is necessary to collect data to fully understand your environment. This is even more true regarding its natural environment. Collect data on flora and fauna, on the oceans in order to understand their evolution over time. Big data makes it possible to progress in scientific work. For example, crossing past and current data, in order to be able to anticipate natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. The stated ambition is therefore to try to anticipate the evolution of its natural environment in order to better adapt.

Thus, we have seen that big data is mobilized in a large number of sectors mainly to process data quickly in the hope of obtaining information useful for decision-making. By using big data, humans want to be able to understand, anticipate, and even predict in certain cases in order to act and react better. Big data is thus increasingly mobilized to such an extent that according to some economic players, its development will be a source of growth and employment in the coming years. For many, the use of big data is increasingly essential, because it contributes to our knowledge economy. But what are the consequences for humans? Towards which society are we moving with the increased use of big data? This is what we will analyze in this second part.

     II. Big Data, an “industry of life”

As we were able to see in the first part, big data can help humans in their daily lives, it should nevertheless be emphasized that this is only a help and not the substitution of humans by machines. But is this help still beneficial? This is what we will try to explore in this development.

First of all, through big data, economic liberalism invades our lives even more subtly, under the guise of being of service to us. Let us first take the example of insurance companies, in the United States or in Germany, offers such as “pay as you drive” are already in place. This device is made up of sensors on board the customer’s car which quantifies, in real time, the driver’s behavior, thus being able to detect his speeding violations, his propensity to take risks, his abrupt reactions or not. Thus, depending on the data collected, the individual will pay more or less for his car insurance.The argument put forward is the flexibility of the contract, as close as possible to the customer’s behavior. But this already involves a significant risk for the conduct of the insured. It is sometimes necessary to exceed the authorized speed limit to pass a dangerous vehicle or even to brake suddenly if a danger appears in front of us. How will the insurer take it into account? Unfortunately, it will not be. It is only an illusion to believe that contributions will go down. The same phenomenon occurs in the field of health. Indeed,the Generali insurance group plans to set up a new system that aims to equip employees with electronic bracelets, thus capturing their entire life: when they go to bed, when they wake up, how often they walk, take the stairs, what they eat. All this data will be analyzed in order to be able to offer the employees participating in this program reduction coupons by the partner companies. Until then, the program could remain attractive if then these data were not resold to other companies to analyze them for mainly commercial purposes.

This is one of the important drifts of the system, the data are exploited to their maximum and deviated from their initial purpose. Societies increasingly seek to profit from each of our movements. Anything we can do, the way we do it, will be judged to become a source of business, with no money coming back to us. On the contrary, our own data will be used to make us consume more. Finally, the system becomes perverse, under the guise of making our lives easier and constantly improving our daily lives, we find ourselves prisoners of it.

The unmanned car is the perfect example. It’s an outright spy booth! By using it, every act and gesture of passengers will be analyzed to understand their behavior, their habits and even their speaking speed. A personal profile will then be created to suggest that they go to this store rather than another, to listen to such paid music.These proposals will be so close to the tastes of users that they will have no other choice but to succumb to them. It is a kind of modern slavery to consumption, to money, the very engine of a liberal economy. Our industries seek to turn every human breath into a source of profit. “Digital technologies, which keep generating traces of all kinds, respond appropriately to the logic of liberalism which aspires to the constant conquest of new markets. His ultimate ambition seems to be fulfilled: that of not being hampered by any limit and of not being excluded from any field. ” (E. Sadin).

Big data seems to interfere in the depths of our lives, “seeking to lean against every moment of life, to merge with life as a whole. The data economy is the integral economy of integral life ”(ibid). Finally, wouldn’t this be a commodification of man? The human being in its entirety is transformed into data, constituting a mathematical sequence which is analyzed for profit. A new type of activity is therefore being created. Large groups like Twitter and companies called DATA Broker sell our personal data.The market leader is an American company, Acxiom, which exploits the data of 700 million people with a turnover of 1.1 billion dollars. Every element and event in our life has a price: our age, address, gender, marriage, child, illnesses, sport. Europeans’ data represents $ 315 billion. In 2020, this figure will be multiplied by 3, or 945 billion dollars.

One of the main problems that emanate from this new type of activity is the fact that the individual is in no way remunerated for the sale and use of his data. Yet it is he who is its very source. Moreover, one of the major consequences of this type of activity is the resulting discrimination as well as the risk of censorship. The individual no longer remains totally free of his choices. They will henceforth influence all the contracts that he subscribes, and this, not without consequences. Any deviations from the expected average behavior will therefore be penalized, or payable. Paying to allow yourself to be yourself is ultimately what tends to happen to us if we let this type of model rule our life entirely.Big data allows progress for humans, but reduces it to the state of data. Do we really want our lives and our societies to come down to an economic ideology? It is up to us to refuse.

On the other hand, one of the consequences of the massive digitization of our data is the loss of confidentiality, of privacy for individuals. This seems inevitable despite the possible anonymization that should take place. “Data carriers are becoming permanent (whereas in the past they could disappear physically) and immediately accessible (whereas in the past they could be buried under other media), which forces us to reinvent a right to data. ‘forgetfulness’(F. Lorvo). In fact, thanks to digital technology and IT, nothing is lost and is thus infinitely reusable. The data collected on our lives could therefore reappear in 30 years. What is at stake behind this burden that we will carry around all of our lives? Could this serve us in the future? Who are these companies to have a lifetime right to our data? We are watched from everywhere.

One of the earliest forms of surveillance takes place on the internet, when we shop online. For example, thanks to cookies, companies can track all our movements on their website, and this, legally. They thus see how long we stay on the site, at what time, for which product. They then try to anticipate our desires through predictive analyzes. This is also done with the bank card and loyalty cards. Are we really aware of all of this? Many people would refuse cameras in their homes, yet it is the same type of surveillance that takes place through our data.How not to realize it? We receive emails, advertisements, letters based on all of this data. Which pushes us in one direction rather than another. Where then is the freedom to act and think? It no longer exists through all of these systems. The collection and exploitation of big data from individuals is a hindrance to the fundamental principle of freedom. Have we ever been free? What is freedom today in our modern societies? To think ? To act ? “Since some of our fundamental principles are being undone, then we must, like the rebellious man of Albert Camus, say ‘no’.

Today, we owe it to ourselves to repeat these words to the extent that a limit has been crossed that offends us, that which sees human integrity and dignity denied by the insatiable ambition of technoliberalism. We must say loud and clear that “that limit” must not be exceeded. It should not be because crossing it violates the values ​​that form the basis of our life together. Or respect for an inviolable part of ourselves, for our autonomy of judgment and our power of action ”(E. Sadin). We must be aware that big data is not only a revolution in the service of humans, it makes us a slave to all these new technologies.We are currently living a critical moment, “For it is now and during the third decade of the 21st century that the unbridled development of an industry of life will be played out, intending to submit ourselves fully to its logics, or the safeguard of the humanist values ​​which we are. ” (ibid.) We must not allow ourselves to be manipulated by a blinding discourse, wanting to be at the service of Man, while he only seeks to enslave him.

On another scale, big data makes our societies more and more vulnerable. Due to the hyper connectivity of the latter, interdependence increases. Companies are becoming weaker in the face of threats like the Twitter attack last Friday (21.10.2016). The more networked we are, the more fragile we are. The dependence is such that as soon as a member or a component of the network is attacked, the whole network is endangered. Is there anyone right now who can guarantee us that the network will never go down?The answer is no. Finally, we become too connected to each other, to our connected objects, to our smartphones, to our computers. For example, there are some cables under the Atlantic Ocean which connect France to the United States, what would happen if one of these cables were to break? A maximum alert plan would be put in place, it would be a disaster for our security, for our networks, for our economy. Logistics itself, which supports big data, is therefore an undeniable element of weakness, the existence of which should not be ignored.

In addition, the advent of big data in our societies is pushing for a standardization of behavior which is intensifying day by day. On the same principle as the insurance contract, there is a “credit score”. The latter is a “confidence coefficient” concerning an individual’s ability to repay a bank loan. It is calculated via job analyzes published by the Internet user on social networks.The connection is not directly obvious between posts posted on social media and the ability to repay a loan, but that is not the issue here. “Numerous studies show that extraversion and open-mindedness reflect a higher propensity to take professional risks, such as quitting without being sure of finding a job. Thus, the one who travels by geolocating often abroad and who publishes many photos in social contexts, whose digital profile shows that he is open-minded and extrovert, could see his “credit score” and therefore his ability to borrow decrease ”(M. Le Masne).

Linking big data to banking or insurance-type contracts therefore inevitably reinforces the standardization of behavior. Individuals will have no choice but to stay within the norm so as not to pay contracts at very high prices. The same is true of health. With an electronic bracelet permanently on oneself, which will transmit our habits, individuals will be encouraged to play sports, go to bed early, not to drink alcohol, not to smoke, not to eat a particular category of food, behaving in this way. like perfect individuals, devoid of any personality. Going further, we can even fear “a dictatorship of data and predictive algorithms imposing a definition of a“ calculated man ”which would call into question the principle of self-determination, a principle which is, according to our vision, the very essence. of every human person ”(V. Mayer-Schönberger and K. Cukier).

By seeking to predict the behavior of individuals, big data tends to reinforce the standardization of behavior, but also tends to put humans in danger. Today in the United States, there are algorithms capable of predicting crimes. The day when these data will become statistically quite reliable, will not big data push to go further by predicting the profile of a delinquent?Then, to create databases with all the DNA of these latter to discover a common gene to finally try to eradicate it from the surface of the earth through genetic manipulation? Predicting the behavior of individuals is not trivial. So far, no voice is raised, because this phenomenon mainly concerns consumption, but its scope is expanding more and more. Ethics is a complex but fundamental problem for the future of humanity, especially in an economy which tends to become digital.

In addition, big data tends to reinforce corporatism. Indeed, as we have been able to point out throughout this article, the users who give their data are never paid for the exploitation of the latter, at the end of the chain, to whom do they belong? Some authors “denounce the negative consequences that this power of information can generate if it is reserved for a few dominant operators” (C. Zolynski). In the end, it is always to the same elites, to multinational firms that the ownership and profit of these data belong. Big data, and we individuals by participating in it, reinforce the power of elites that are increasingly influential and do not operate in the general interest.These large dominant operators will they not seek to retain strategic or essential information to improve the well-being of man or society? This unfortunately can be risk in a society driven by self-interest and profit. For example, the latter could be tempted to keep information on motorway traffic in France, while this data would make it possible to reduce the number of accidents.

Finally, undeniably, the last consequence of big data is the loss of human contact. Today, we interact more with machines than with human beings. These are algorithms that explain the world to us. Our perception of life is influenced by all of these technologies. The proof is, we speak with more people on social media than in real life.Expressing in public is more difficult, we need a screen to hide. This is easier, because speaking in front of others amounts to taking a risk, while we are more and more risk averse. This is a paradoxical situation, because big data cannot function without Man, has no meaning without him, but could be the cause of his loss. As we have seen in this second part, many issues must be taken into consideration regarding the development of big data in the years to come. You have to be fully aware of its advantages, as well as its disadvantages, before making any decisions. No consequence should be overlooked, it is the future of our societies that is at stake.


The issues and questions concerning big data are therefore as multiple and complex as the data concerning it. One sentence could sum up its use “Big data is not about the future, it is today! Far from stereotypes, big data is not an IT profession, you have to think about business ”(JF Minster, Scientific Director of the Total group) above all economic, in the service of profit. Nevertheless, let us not remain pessimistic, as we mentioned in the first part, these massive data today have various uses in the service of man such as: aid to health, agriculture, transport, the environment as well as many other areas. These advances are going further and further, going as far as detecting the physiology of Alzheimer’s disease. But let’s not forget that all these advances also have a negative side, concerning health for example, the greatest risk is genetic manipulation.As the law is currently obsolete, there is a growing need for legal regulation. According to Günther Oettinger, European Commissioner for the Economy and Digital Society, a general data protection regulation will enter into force in 2018 at European level.This “will allow European citizens to better control their personal data. It also contains important benefits for companies. They will henceforth have the advantage of a one-stop-shop and a single set of European rules to operate in the large digital single market ”. But that sounds utopian. Gille Babinet for his part mentions that for four years in Brussels, MEPs have been discussing the European data regulation. It is by far the text on which the lobbies are the most active. What will happen? European regulation on such a sensitive and vague subject seems unimaginable.The data is so volatile and can be located anywhere in the world, how will the jurisdiction be able to intervene when the data is not on the territory? What support should we base ourselves on? So many questions that are not ready to be answered.

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