Inescapable Data: Harnessing the Power of Convergence
By Chris Stakutis and John Webster
IBM Press, 2005
Early in Inescapable Data: Harnessing the Power of Convergence, Chris Stakutis and John Webster explain that "inescapable data" implies the generation of massive amounts of data, mostly from wireless devices, which is then transformed into information available to users. The book is a wide survey of trends in combining data generation, storage, and communication, cleverly avoiding tables, charts, or other graphics. Everything flows like a dialogue, and the book is in fact largely based on interviews with 50 experts from different fields. It targets a vast audience with minimal technical knowledge.
Stakutis and Webster see data arising inescapably from the synergy among three key technological trends:
• The widespread use of technologies that generate data (such as RFID, GPS, and video) and data-everywhere devices (such as PDAs, cell phones, and laptops).
• The transformation of such data into useful information (for example, through Grid or federated computing, supercomputers, self-explained data through XML, and the widespread use of portable computing devices). The idea is to give data contextual value and to make it retrievable.
• The networking of different computing and data-generating devices into a single whole, mostly using wireless technology (for example, 3G or WiFi), to add value.
Stakutis and Webster repeatedly use the word "mining," probably implying data mining (knowledge discovery in databases). But they explain the concept just once with a single phrase, and their data mining example concerns something they claim is an urban legend. Because the book discusses the importance of converting raw data into useful, usable information, it should include a chapter solely about data mining.
Stakutis and Webster briefly mention self-organization, regarding intelligent data conversion through a network of physical computer agents called motes. But they fail to further explain about motes' virtual counterparts: multiagent technology, which can help address concerns of data acquisition and transformation and end-user delivery.
The book discusses 3D data rendering, but because Stakutis and Webster constantly refer to "flows of data" (dynamic rather than static databases), 4D rendering would be more accurate. Seismology, for example, has been using this terminology for years.
Even skeptical readers will probably be lured by this "data everywhere" concept—that is, to realize that we're already very connected in spite of technological limitations. Stakutis and Webster give so many contemporary examples of inescapable data that many readers will start thinking differently about how data already connects them.
However, the authors don't ignore the inescapable-data paradigm's many technological and sociological challenges. On the technological side, they mention issues such as data portability, protection, and storage (including the probable substitution of disk by solid-state memories).
They also address social and economic issues. For example, the inescapable-data paradigm is already changing how people work and live—provided that they possess mobile data-generation and computing devices (such as PDAs, laptops, cell phones, credit or debit cards, and networked RFID or Wi-Fi gadgets).
However, the book lacks a global sociological perspective. Readers outside the US might assume that the book's viewpoint is exportable. In a way it is, provided we consider the long term. Granted, the authors aren't sociologists or economists, but it would have been nice if their pool of experts had been a bit more global. Their conclusions would have seemed more solid if they had included opinions from, for example, non-English speaking experts, or experts from developing countries.
This book presents an interesting discussion of how technology connects people. Its description of total interconnectedness might seem speculative, but it's highly plausible. Most of the technology Stakutis and Webster refer to is already available, and its transformation into the inescapable-data paradigm is likely just a matter of time. If you live in the US, perhaps most trends the book describes are accurate. For those in other countries, some trends might take a bit longer to take hold. In general, I would recommend this book for everybody, including specialists and non-US residents (although the latter group should take it with a grain of salt).
is a scientific researcher at the Mexican Petroleum Institute. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.