Monday, July 23, 2012

Extraterrestrial Contact: Data Mining

We humans are sitting on massive piles of data. It’s estimated that we created 1.8 Zettabytes of data in 2011. The amount of data created has been doubling every two years. Where does it all go? Storage, for the most part. There is a burgeoning industry in mining and making use of that data. It can inform the management of a company about trends and future activity.
Some of that data is probably junk, but by analyzing data you can do more than just tell you what has occurred in the past. Lockheed Martin analyzed Twitter and Facebook posting activity to predict large public protests in Saudi Arabia.
Just imagine the massive amounts of data being generated on Facebook alone. You can bet that Mark Zuckerberg is thinking about it. It’s probably the future for Facebook. Imagine being able to tell businesses not only what people want to buy now, but using predictive analysis to also tell businesses what consumers are likely to want six months or a year from now? Such information would be incredibly valuable and Zuckerberg is sucking it into his servers each and every minute.
This isn’t an anti-Facebook post. I believe that social media is an important part of the future of human communication. I think to a certain extent social media also means that we must accept transparency of all sorts- and that includes access to the information generated. Just because a company is using it to sell more soft drinks doesn’t mean it can’t also be used to predict health problems or track disease. It’s a matter of who has access to that data. Does it simply go to the highest bidder? Could it be used by nonprofits and researchers?
My primary question is this- if we are just beginning to understand the power of data for predicting the future, what might advanced extraterrestrials be able to do with our data? I’m not suggesting a conspiracy here folks- I don’t think that aliens are busy data mining. But if they did have the ability to plug into our Internet, and creatively bypass security, they might have the ability to see all sorts of things not readily apparent to us. If you were a visiting extraterrestrial that might be very tempting. Not only could you research human history, but also take a look at where humanity might be headed. Could a Euro crash bring down the world economy? What impact will global warming have on our weather patterns? We keep a lot of data around concerning many different things. Data mining could tell extraterrestrials a lot about us.
What would they do with such information? Well, if they had bad intentions they could use it to manipulate us, either behind the scenes or in an outright gesture. If they had good intentions they could use it to warn us of impending problems. Or they could do a little bit of both. That’s the tough thing when speculating about aliens- any answer could be correct. How would we feel about data mining by extraterrestrials? I would imagine after the initial shock we would be pissed-off, and rightfully so. Data mining by extraterrestrials would be a breach of our right to self-determination. Interference in our society would be unacceptable, even if for our own benefit. So, if aliens were digging around in our data, what could they do to make it right? Perhaps the only hope would be complete transparency and a pledge of noninterference. They could tell us exactly what they did and why they did it. I think this would apply to any actions extraterrestrials may have taken to research humans and the planet Earth.
This may sound a bit crazy right now. But interference is a serious issue should we ever experience Direct First Contact. In the meantime, I’m sure humans will find new and interesting ways to make use of all of that data. Let’s just hope that Mark Zuckerberg has good intentions. He’s a lot more worrisome than aliens.
What do you think aliens might do if they were plugged into our Internet? Join the discussion on the Alien First Contact Facebook page.

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