Award-winning US journalist Kenneth Cukier dons many professional hats with similar ease. As well as being a Senior Editor at the Economist, he hosts their weekly technology podcast appropriately named Babbage after the great Charles Babbage, the godfather of computing. Cukier is also actively conducting research in the field of artificial intelligence as an associate fellow at Said Business School at Oxford.
Kenneth Cukier is best known for his book Big Data, which provides an excellent insight into the transformational effects of collecting large-scale, digital information and using it for social and technological advancement. It makes a strong case for the benefit of big data optimisation in predictive analysis in areas such as healthcare, climate change, criminal science, education and others.
The book reflects also on society’s need to shoulder the collective responsibility of dealing with a host of problems that accompany the big data revolution. Cukier clearly states his position as not being a data ‘Evangelist’ in a Q&A session for Big Data. Along with his co-author Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, he reiterates an apposite warning about the dark side of big data which includes the possible casualties resulting from the ‘fetishisation’ of the technology.
One of the major revelations from Big Data was the introduction of a new class of future professionals called ‘Algorithmists’ who would essentially specialise in auditing the big data processes in the age of data.
An episode of Cukier’s podcast features an interview with ex-Facebook investor Roger McNamee, who reflects on Facebook’s transition from being a tool for improved social connection to a tool for bad actors to cause irreparable damage to society.
Facebook’s business model is now increasingly being adopted by up-and-coming companies, which sets a dangerous precedent if it is allowed to carry on unregulated. The problems arising from this are related to our individual mental health and to our right to privacy as well as the state of democracy and the economy.
Another feature, a discussion with Martin Tisne, Managing Director of Luminate – a non profit working for digital data rights, focuses on the inadequacy of current legal and regulatory privacy provisions related to personal data ownership. Cukier is a vocal proponent of the need to strike a harmonious balance between user privacy rights and the use of personal data for technological purposes. In his TED talk, he draws a perfect analogy between how data is being used today and how man first used fire, saying: “It is a tool, but it is a tool which unless used carefully will burn us”.
Join the Conversation with Kenneth Cukier
Hear more from Ken Cukier on this topic at the upcoming Commonwealth Centre for Connected Learning (3CL) conference on Post-truth Society in Valletta, Malta, 10-11 October. This conference is one of the few forums dedicated to encouraging discussion and formulating responses to deal with the rampant erosion of trust. It offers participants an inter-disciplinary platform to engage in exploring four interconnected sectors – Technology, Media, Education and Government – and to assess their roles both as solutions and contributors to the Post-truth society.