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The current focus on “big data” may be obscuring something more interesting: it’s often not the pure size of a dataset that’s important.
Science should be a two-way street. In the same way that we might view the financial system as a computational model that can be simulated, there are undoubtedly things that computing can learn from finance. In particular, a lot of financial instruments and techniques evolved because of uncertainty and risk: issues that are absolutely a part of computer science in general and of sensorised systems in particular. The financial crunch hasn’t invalidated the significance that these techniques may have for computer science and systems architecture.
Sensor networks are all about uncertainty: if the sensor says it’s 20°C out there, then it might be 20°C plus-or-minus half a degree or so (limited precision); or it might be some different temperature, and the sensor’s just reported a duff value for some reason (limited accuracy). By contrast, computers most definitely aren’t about uncertainty, a fact enshrined in the famous maxim “garbage in, garbage out”. What does this mean for our ability to build really large, robust and flexible sensor networks?