IT giants Pentland and Keen debate on Big Data

How to reasonably manage Big Data in society? MIT co-founder Alex Pentland and author and internet critic Andrew Keen about benefits and challenges of a 21st century phenomenon.

It turned out to be a controversially conducted debate that illuminated Berlin’s FAZ Atrium. Approximately 150 guests came to listen to MIT pioneer Alex ‘Sandy’ Pentland and best-selling author Andrew Keen („The Internet Is Not The Answer”), whose positions fierecly opposed more than once. Both speakers featured this years’ “Digitising Europe Initiative 2015“ concentrating on the opportunities and limits of digitisation, especially related to Big Data.

Inspired by an American TV debate, both experts were facing each other soon after Mark Speich, Managing Director at the Vodafone Institute for Society and Communications had warmly welcomed all attendees. On a rotating basis Pentland and Keen tried to persuade one another and the audience by putting their general attitudes in strong punchlines. David Deissner, Director Strategy and Programmes at the Vodafone Institute, moderated.

Both speakers started off with a 20 minutes time frame, exposing the key messages of their opinion. Already this stage it became obvious that Pentland concentrated on the benefits of expanding digitisation. The promising usage of Big Data in almost all aspects of societal life became the scientist’s main argument.

Although Pentland showed respect for critical remarks on his position, he emphasized his point of view as being a way without any alternatives. “We fought for our physical identity – now we have to fight for our digital one”, Pentland made his position unambiguous.

Entrepreneur Keen countered by expressing possible drawbacks in this regard. Danger would arise for the social life of people as well as the creative individuality. The latter e.g. in depreciating classical printing press by the extensive usage of social media. Keen’s worry: In today’s society everybody believes being an expert in all fields, resulting in downgrading of true expertise and creativity. In line with author Keen criticised the permanent visibility of posted information: “The internet forgot to learn to forget.”

Following several small debating sessions, the discussion got opened for the attending audience and Twitter community, which partly resulted in a heated dispute. By spontaneous applause, interjections and laughter, the audience appreciated the speakers’ individual remarks and made the debate even more vivid.

„Digitising Europe 2015 Initiative“ is the second round of last year’s successfully launched series on digitisation of society and will be followed by further formats with diverse scales in the course of the next months.

For a social media review feel free to check up the relevant Twitter feed using the hashtag #digitisingEU.

Pentland, Deißner, Keen at FAZ Atrium, Berlin

Memorable debate: Alex “Sandy” Pentland (l.), David Deißner (m.) and Andrew Keen at FAZ Atrium, Berlin, Nov. 2015 (Foto: Vodafone Institute)