Thinking, but not about uncertainty

Google seems to be doing pretty well everything these days. Their UK operation has just published the first issue of a new magazine, Think Quarterly, and it's all about data. It looks very pleasant, particularly if you read the version that emulates a print magazine. And there's some interesting content, including interviews with Hans Rosling and with Hal Varian, Google's Chief Economist who famously said in 2009 that "the sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians." But, strangely, the whole magazine says nothing explicit about uncertainty.

A theme running through many of the articles is that, these days, we're swamped with vast quantities of data, and that the difficult part is dealing with all of it. (Varian refers to this as "data obesity".) Well, in many areas that's perfectly true. But uncertainty doesn't just arise from lack of data. It can come just as much from not being able to find and use the relevant information in a mountain of data. In my view, we're not going to make the progress that Varian and others want, without recognising the role that uncertainty still plays.

Maybe there's some hope though. Varian says that "Google is like a university, but with money." Perhaps they'll use some of the money to deal with the uncertainty that comes from data mountains.

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