Big Data and The Truth

Big Data and The Truth

A computer and Big Data recently beat the world (human) champion of the game Go.
There are more possible positions on the board than there are atoms in the universe.
A frequent theme in these blogs is how people think accounting is an exact science. How, since balance sheets balance to the cent, we accountants must have a firm grip on The Truth.

But we don’t. We guess all the time. We guess how long machines will last, how much debtors will pay us, and whether goodwill is good.

Of course I exaggerate. We estimate rather than make pure guesses. But in doing so we’re no different to any other profession, be it social science, economics, or psychology.  

In a new book called Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz suggests that we’re all about to get a much bigger dose of the absolute truth. And it’s all thanks to Big Data.  

Big Data has been in the news for many reasons. Massive amounts of data and a fine analysis of them influenced the US presidential election. In China, cameras and huge databases of people’s faces can find a particular individual walking through a city in minutes. 

For social scientists, instead of interviewing at most a few thousand subjects and believing what they tell pollsters, Big Data will capture what millions of people actually do and think, whether it’s political views or sexual behavior.

Rather like considering whether librarians looked up and saw this thing coming called the Internet that would deeply change their profession, I wonder if accounting and its estimation habits are about to be shaken up too.