Big Data's Digital Nervous System
In a recent Forbes post, Ed Dumbill describes how computers have traditionally been used to digitize real-world business operations, for use in siloed computer applications. He refers to this as a "digital exoskeleton" that served as a support system for processes like payroll or inventory management.
But a major shift is underway. “The arrival of the Internet and web has added a new dimension, bringing in an era of entirely digital business. Customer interaction, payments and often product delivery can exist entirely within computer systems.” In this new world, data isn’t simply stored inside the exoskeleton. “The key trait is to make an organization’s feedback loop entirely digital. That is, a direct connection from sensing and monitoring inputs through to product outputs.” These are the hallmarks of the digital nervous system.
Dumbill concludes by saying we will need more sophisticated approaches to handle the “challenges of massive data flows.” It’s easy to be intimidated by this vision if you are thinking in terms of conventional analytics. But it’s only information overload if your method of processing the data is a bottleneck. If I had to sit down every night and analyze the entire day’s input of sensory data to my brain, I would be overwhelmed. That’s no way to run a nervous system. Fortunately, your brain processes sensory information in real time, and initiates action in response. So when you put your hand on a hot stovetop, you react immediately rather than waiting to build a regression model to incorporate when you detect sudden spikes in temperature. In fact, with visual input, you can predict you will burn your hand and avoid putting it on the stovetop altogether.
This is where the nervous system metaphor enters the realm of the literal. As posted previously, Grok’s algorithms are designed to replicate the learning and memory processes conducted by the neocortex. Grok learns patterns and makes predictions to drive action in the same way that your brain does. Modeling the neocortex may not be the only way of creating a learning and adaptive prediction engine, but the requirements of the “digital nervous system” referred to by Dumbill match perfectly with the capabilities of the neocortex.
As the age of the digital nervous system dawns, Grok represents the type of technology that will convert massive data flows into value.