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Should the Pentagon Extract, Aggregate or Refine Data?


Before the military can harness data, it helps to understand exactly what kind of resource data is.

Metaphors can convert complexity into easily understandable phrases. But leading thinkers and the executors of military modernization have wrestled with the question of whether data is more like oil, ore or ice.

“Data is like ice,” said John Ferrari, chief administrative officer of QOMPLX, an analytics and insurance software company. “If you put one cube in your glass out on the summer on your patio, it’ll melt. But if you put four bags of ice cubes together around a keg it will stay cold the entire time. Being together makes it exponentially more valuable.”

Ferrari’s remarks came as part of the Association of the United States Army symposium on AI and Autonomy in Detroit, Nov. 20-21. While the ice metaphor may be a stretch, it captures well that part of what makes data useful is its relation to other data: that big data is built out of the vast array of connections found when machines process tremendous data sets.

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