Big Data's Digital Nervous System

Rob Haitani • Marketing

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.

Rob Haitani • Marketing

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