Stanisław Lem on Big Data

[Is Big Data] necessary? A member of the French Academy, writing in Le Monde, said that it was inevitable, it had to appear. This civilization of ours, he wrote, which measures everything, counts everything, evaluates everything, weighs everything, which breaks every commandment and prohibition, desires to know all. But the more populous it becomes, the less intelligible it is to itself. It throws itself with the most fury at whatever continues to resist it. There was nothing strange, therefore, in its wanting to have its own portrait, a faithful portrait, such as never existed, and an objective one – objectivity being the order of the day. So in the cause of modern technology it took a photograph like those done with a reporter's flash camera: without touch-ups.

... I would substitute for it another, more modest question: Does [data science] truly show all of humanity? The statistical tables are a keyhole, and the reader, a Peeping Tom, spies on the huge naked body of humanity busy about its everyday affairs. But through a keyhole not everything can be seen at once. More important, perhaps, is the fact that the observer stands eye to eye, as it were, not merely with his own species but with its fate.

Stanisław Lem, "One Human Minute"