"Big Data" promises to turn terabytes, petabytes, and exabytes (with, presumably, zettabytes and yottabytes to come) of what's often ambient digital detritus into useful results. That promise often seems to come with an implicit assumption; with enough data and the tools to crunch it, useful insights will follow. Insights that can be used to make businesses more efficient, tailor everything from medicine to advertising for individuals, and employ instrumentation and automation on larger and more complex physical systems than ever before.
For example, we're in the early days of what sometimes goes by the name of the "Internet of Things," the idea that we'll have pervasive meshes of sensors recording everything and integrated together into feedback loops that optimize the system as a whole. IBM, with rather more marketing dollars than the academics who first coined the concept, talks about this idea under an expansive "Smarter Planet" vision.
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