Laplace and Big Data fallacy

Earlier this week I was in Singapore, attending the MRSS Asia Research Conference, which this year focused on the theme of Big Data. There was an interesting range of papers, including ones linking neuroscience, Behavioural Economics, and ethnography to Big Data. One reference that was repeated by several of the speakers, including me, was IBM’s four Vs, i.e. Volume, Velocity, Variety, and Veracity. Volume is a given, big data is big. Velocity relates to the speed that people want to access the information. Variety reminds us that Big Data includes a mass of unstructured information, including photos, videos, and open-ended comments. Veracity relates to whether the information is correct or reliable. However, as I listened to the presentations, and whilst I heard at least three references to the French mathematician/philosopher René Descartes, my mind turned to another French mathematician, Peirre-Simon Laplace. In 1814, Laplace put forward the view that if someone were (theoretically) to know the precise position and movement of every atom it would be possible to estimate their future position – a philosophical position known as determinism. Laplace was shown to be wrong, first by the laws of thermodynamics, and secondly and more thoroughly by quantum mechanics. The […]