Amber Alerts are a great example of how we can harness the idea of big data to do good things. In fact, it is one of the first examples that Peggy brings up to people whenever she is trying to describe the idea of machine-to-machine and how it impacts our everyday lives.

So needless to say it was very exciting when news hit today about Google launching AMBER Alerts coordinating with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the Google Public Alerts platform. The idea here is that if you are using Google Search or Google Maps on desktop or mobile, you will be given notice if there has been an AMBER Alert issued in the area in which you are searching for information.

In other words, if you are looking up information about let’s say a restaurant or some new store in the city of Denver and there has been an AMBER Alert issued there that day, you would be given notice. As much or as little information as has been made available will be presented to the person searching. That could be anything from details about the model and make of the vehicle to information about the abducted child.

It’s a great idea and I say kudos to Google for pooling the power of its millions of users in hopes that through the help of many an abducted child can be rescued. But a key underlying factor about this announcement is the idea of big data hitting the national stage in a positive manner.

I recall a conversation Peggy and I had with Michael Jones earlier this year, in which Google’s chief tech advocate boasted about the power of aggregated data in order to get out in front of epidemics or natural disasters. The idea he described involved taking a sampling of a certain geographical location and finding that things such as ‘symptoms of whooping cough’ are being searched by a large number of IP addresses in that area.

Could having that information readily available to local health officials perhaps help them get out in front of a coming epidemic in the area by arming themselves with the right type of treatment prior to these people coming into the doctor’s office?

It’s a powerful statement about what data means to society today. I think of things like a child being abducted and believe the scariest part about such a situation has to be simply the lack of knowing what is going on. Not knowing any details, only that your child is gone, must be absolutely terrifying. Today we have the potential to use the power of many to provide knowledge to those in need.

All it takes is for this alert to trigger a thought or response to one person who might not have been previously aware, and what we have is a winning idea. It puts sort of a positive spin on the idea of Big Brother watching; and maybe we can start to put away all the negative connotations that come with this moniker.

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