The federal government talked a lot about grand scientific visions when it unveiled its big data agenda last week, but the government has consumers on its mind, too. The message from Washington seems to be that it doesn’t want to unduly hinder innovation on consumer-facing big data applications, and it might even be willing to help make them better.
According to Decide.com Vice President of Product and Marketing Michael Paulson, members of the company were invited to attend the White House’s big data summit, and one of the big takeaways was that Congress might be willing to admit that it doesn’t know what it doesn’t know with regard to big data. While discussions about privacy get a lot of attention, lawmakers don’t always know how data is being used to improve the user experience. There are a lot of bills about to be written governing data use, Paulson said, and part of the summit was an effort to make sure those writing the bills don’t hinder benign innovation with short-sighted laws.
Paulson also noted that several agency members approached Decide Co-Founder and CTO Oren Etzioni and suggested they could provide datasets that might actually improve Decide’s buy-or-wait engine for electronics purchases. Decide works by analyzing large datasets on pricing and product-release information in order to give consumers an idea whether now is the best time to buy a particular product or whether they should wait because the price is about to drop, or a new model is about to come out. It also aggregates reviews, news and other info about a product so consumers can make informed decisions beyond Decide’s algorithmically generated predictions. According to Paulson, federal agencies have data on factors from energy efficiency to manufacturing location that they might be willing to share.
And we are only at the beginning when it comes to startups using data to build apps that will improve the consumer experience. Even for teams that aren’t stocked with Ph.Ds., analytic techniques such as natural-language processing and machine learning are slowly making their way into the mainstream. Just this morning, I had a call with the founders of Stazoo, a site that’s using sentiment analysis to help users determine what music and movies are hot among their friends and the greater world of Twitter users.
I have been adamant about the need for lawmakers to get a better grasp on where technology is headed so they don’t write laws that inadvertently stifle innovation down the line, and data is a particularly tricky area in that regard. If Congress and the administration are actually serious about getting educated on big data so they can ensure it flourishes, I say kudos to them.
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