Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?

Why Data Is the New Coal ( 75

An anonymous reader shares a report on The Guardian: "Is data the new oil?" asked proponents of big data back in 2012 in Forbes magazine. By 2016, and the rise of big data's turbo-powered cousin deep learning, we had become more certain: "Data is the new oil," stated Fortune. Amazon's Neil Lawrence has a slightly different analogy: Data, he says, is coal. Not coal today, though, but coal in the early days of the 18th century, when Thomas Newcomen invented the steam engine. A Devonian ironmonger, Newcomen built his device to pump water out of the south west's prolific tin mines. The problem, as Lawrence told the Re-Work conference on Deep Learning in London, was that the pump was rather more useful to those who had a lot of coal than those who didn't: it was good, but not good enough to buy coal in to run it. That was so true that the first of Newcomen's steam engines wasn't built in a tin mine, but in coal works near Dudley. So why is data coal? The problem is similar: there are a lot of Newcomens in the world of deep learning. Startups like London's Magic Pony and SwiftKey are coming up with revolutionary new ways to train machines to do impressive feats of cognition, from reconstructing facial data from grainy images to learning the writing style of an individual user to better predict which word they are going to type in a sentence.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Why Data Is the New Coal

Comments Filter:
  • But... (Score:5, Funny)

    by sbrown7792 ( 2027476 ) on Tuesday September 27, 2016 @10:56AM (#52969509)
    I thought data was Oreos!?
  • buy coal in to run it.???
    The problem is similar: blahblahblah
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Especially when you think about who the coal miners are, who owns the coal, and who the "coal" is.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    God. I'm sure this was written by a hipster. With think black glasses and a muslim-style beard. The whole nine yards, with bicycle and record player.

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Close. It was dictated into a record player/recorder by a hipster while biking to a remote coffee shop (you've never heard of it, don't ask). Then it was transcribed to paper by another hipster with a vintage 1884 typewriter. Later, the "masterpiece" was given to guy with a real job who spends much of his free time questioning his decision in friends so he could scan it, run text recognition, fix the errors in conversion, then upload it for all his "friends" to see on their phones as they sip microbrews

  • But the internet is pipes. Surely if data is coal it should be conveyor belts.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      But the internet is pipes. Surely if data is coal it should be conveyor belts.

      You kids. Back in the day we had to shovel our data.

      • There's still a data chute on the side of my house that leads down to the data-fired server.

        • There's still a data chute on the side of my house that leads down to the data-fired server.

          And there's a chute on the back side of my ass that leads to analogies about data being coal.

    • I can't believe I'm having to say this here, but the internet is a series of tubes, not pipes.
  • by nitehawk214 ( 222219 ) on Tuesday September 27, 2016 @11:27AM (#52969699)

    "Data is coal, not oil."

    You sound like a moron.

    Sometimes things do not fit into your analogies. No matter how hard you try to force it.

    • Dissent on the +2 Troll moderation. This guy is an angry prick but I'm pretty sure the analogy makes no sense, at least not to any layman. Even to my senses, coal and oil are the basis of economy: all economy runs down to energy. Hunter-gatherers are solely concerned with food to power human muscle to hunt and gather; agrarian societies are similarly concerned, until they invent animal power (still food) and mills (water, wind, coal, oil, solar power). Societies require human time to produce the thing

      • I hope I can get this to +5 Troll.

        The thing I am most angry and prickish about is that people try to force analogies where they just don't belong in order to falsely direct the conversation. Analogies might be intuitive, but they are often so intuitive that it gives people the false sense of actually knowing what they are talking about.

        Internet of tubes and all that.

      • > all economy runs down to energy.

        ^ THIS.

        > society can get all of its energy needs without energy being built using big data infrastructure.

        I'm not sure how you missed the fact that (Big) Data leads to Knowledge which leads to Power and Energy and ultimate Money.

        That's why Apple [], Amazon, Google, Microsoft, etc. are all building huge data centers. They want a piece of the pie of influencing & controlling because ultimately it will bring profits.

        • The thing is big data lets you go to East Africa and use gajillions of samples to map out a statistical analysis of exactly what square meter of ground you want to tap into to get the most-likely absolute-best geothermal energy production. Rough knowledge lets you do ... about the same thing, just without taking it to planck scale.

          We're not talking about the difference between a 500 gigawatt production facility and a 900 gigawatt production facility; we're talking about 500 gigawatt versus 500.1 gigawat

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Am I the only one who found this to be gibberish that makes zero sense? Seriously what is this supposed to mean?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    omigod omigod THIS is the NEXT BIG THING !! Don't MISS OUT in this ONCE IN A LIFETIME opportunity to get in on the GROUND FLOOR of the biggest thing since COAL !!!!

    cc: Mr Bulschiter and Associates,
      As per our agreement, Oh-pinion Makerz has placed 200 stories on social media designed to ignite the hype cycle for your company's offerings. This fulfills the terms of our contract.

    Please send fee to our offshore associates.

    Thank you.

  • by SolemnLord ( 775377 ) on Tuesday September 27, 2016 @12:15PM (#52970019)

    It goes down smooth and tastes great but if you get more than you can handle you end up driving your car through a house.

  • Coal was a new energy source - a way to replace human and animal labor with machine labor. This resulted in huge productivity gains (measured in productivity per person - productivity per Joule expended actually went down because coal energy was so much cheaper than human labor meaning inefficient machines could still be cheaper). The MO was dirt simple - take anything that used to require people or animals to expend effort to do, make a machine to do it, and power the machine with coal.

    Data is just da
    • Aside from a few data-processing tasks which have already been automated (OCR, statistical analysis), there is no dirt simple way to use data to reduce human labor.

      Complete nonsense. Computers are how you use data to reduce human labor and tons of tasks have been automated. To take the analogy further oil by itself is useless. You need a machine to do something useful with it. Data is the same way. By itself it is comparatively useless but with a computer you can do a lot to reduce human labor. For example CAD or bookkeeping or inventory are all data processing tasks which substantially reduce human labor with the help of data.

  • by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Tuesday September 27, 2016 @12:31PM (#52970149)

    After sitting through many code reviews, I can tell you it's not clean coal.

  • Just like coal- my data is polluted. I deliberately try and pass as much misinformation (when I can) into companies that collect my data. Obviously a lot of it I can't.

    Part of it is for self-protection and privacy- and part of it is because it amuses me and I have a weird sense of humor.

  • by jenningsthecat ( 1525947 ) on Tuesday September 27, 2016 @12:40PM (#52970213)

    For the first time since I can remember, TFA was actually written more poorly than TFS. Of course, that wasn't not too hard; TFS only contained one paragraph from the article, while TFA itself went on and on and on in an a meandering, fuzzy-headed, buzz-word-filled fashion that said nothing and went nowhere. As a bonus, that 'coal' metaphor seems to have come straight from a cannabis-induced moment of "enlightenment".

  • by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Tuesday September 27, 2016 @01:00PM (#52970369)

    Just like the dotcom bubble, there are entire companies whose fate hinges on massive uptake of the "big data" and "deep learning" revolutions. And just like the hype cycles from the last bubble, there's some truth to them but people really take it to an extreme to get headlines and clicks. I think when the bubble pops, there will be plenty of "real" big data problems for serious qualified people to solve, as well as legions of unemployed "data scientists" and "cognitive champions."

    I think applying data analysis techniques to societal problems (emergency response, environmental issues, etc.) is a good thing. I don't think the current focus of ever more intrusive advertising and behavior analysis is going to add much value in the long run. This isn't a tinfoil-hat style rejection of tracking, it's my belief that even the dumbest of consumers are going to reach a point where they can't stand having ads shoved in their face anymore and demand that it stop. Ever notice how commerce sites email you when you put an item in your cart, then don't buy it? Lots of sites have at least buried a setting somewhere in their account configs that let people turn this off. No one ever went broke overestimating the stupidity of the average consumer, but pushing things on every channel (phone, computer, tablet, streaming ads, browser ads, etc.) will lead to consumer fatigue.

  • Okay if big data the new coal, we should stop using it now because although it is currently cheap and plentiful with apparently many applications, we know eventually it lead us to the collapse of civilization.

    Maintaining access to big-data will eventually cause political conflicts and maybe even wars, and continuing unrestrained usage of big data will eventually cause inconvenient problems in our daily lives that will make our world unliveable and our society unsustainable. The money exploited by the early

  • to justify hitting it with new deep learning/NN technology. Also, most of the old data has been "mined out" with standard statistical techniques.

    Oh, they can do the exercise: chase phantoms, declare that they "found" something new (the same old trends previously found again), with the very occasional true discovery. But by and large, 15 minutes after the data is released, everything we already know will be confirmed and anything new we can know or will know will be revealed.

    Nothing here, Folks. Move along p

  • Ignoring the grammatical errors and typos, I assume the closer was supposed to be something like, "But right now, the only organizations actually using deep learning techniques are the ones who produce the big data in the first place, and they are using it for their own purposes. We have not yet reached the point where big data or deep learning are being commercialized by third parties."
  • Worst analogy ever.

  • The summary should have included the next paragraph of the article to make any sense:

    And yet, like Newcomen, their innovations are so much more useful to the people who actually have copious amounts of raw material to work from. And so Magic Pony is acquired by Twitter, SwiftKey is acquired by Microsoft – and Lawrence himself gets hired by Amazon from the University of Sheffield, where he was based until three weeks ago.

    Or else the poster should have just written a terse summary and not just cut and paste paragraphs. Yeah I know, this is slash-dot...

Man is an animal that makes bargains: no other animal does this-- no dog exchanges bones with another. -- Adam Smith