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New doc shows our evolving relationship with big data

A staff member at the Somerset House in London stands in front of an art exhibit themed on big data. Rick Smolan, executive producer of the film "The Human Face of Big Data," says our relationship to data isn't black and white. JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images

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With great data comes great responsibility.

The documentary, “The Human Face of Big Data,” tackles our evolving relationship with big data and how it isn’t so black and white.

“We’re seeing something that I don’t think we’ve ever seen before,” said Rick Smolan, executive producer of the film. “And this is still the caveman era of big data.”

Just as the microscope opened up a whole new world of biology right under our noses, big data is opening up aspects of our existence that were previously hidden. This data can not only increase our human understanding, but has the potential to solve major issues such as pollution, natural disasters, and personalized healthcare.

“No doctor will be able to prescribe even an Advil without first looking at how it interacts with your genes,” Smolan said.

However, with this great power to do good, there is also a “dark side” of big data. Smolan encourages consumers to be aware of how much data is collected about them.

“We need to be aware of how instrumented our lives are,” Smolan said. “Everything now has this sort of data exhaust that is being collected and analyzed, and I think we should have the rights to use that and decide what we want to share with other people.”

“The Human Face of Big Data” premieres tonight on PBS. It will also be available online tomorrow, Feb. 25, on CuriosityStream.

Additional production by Levi Sharpe.

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