Data Barns, Ambient Intelligence and Cloud Computing: The Tacit Epistemology and Linguistic Representation of Big Data


Sara W. Tower: Class of 2012

Document Type


Publication Date


Department 1



The explosion of data grows at a rate of roughly five trillion bits a second, giving rise to greater urgency in conceptualizing the infosphere (Floridi 2011) and understanding its implications for knowledge and public policy. Philosophers of technology and information technologists alike who wrestle with ontological and epistemological questions of digital information tend to emphasize, as Floridi does, information as our new ecosystem and human beings as interconnected informational organisms, inforgs at home in ambient intelligence. But the linguistic and conceptual representations of Big Data—the massive volume of both structured and unstructured data—and the real world practice of data-mining for patterns and meaningful interpretation of evidence reveal tension and ambiguity in the bold promise of data analytics. This paper explores the tacit epistemology of the rhetoric and representation of Big Data and suggests a richer account of its ambiguities and the paradox of its real world materiality. We argue that Big Data should be recognized as manifesting multiple and conflicting trajectories that reflect human intentionality and particular patterns of power and authority. Such patterns require attentive exploration and moral appraisal if we are to resist simplistic informationist ontologies of Big Data, and the subtle forms of control in the political ecology of Big Data that undermine its promise as transformational knowledge.



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