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The World of Big Data - Kenneth Cukier

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Published on Jul 23, 2012

Good Afternoon,

I am Ken Cukier, the data editor of The Economist. Let me first make a few thanks. It is great to be here, as it always is at Salzburg... for those of us who admire and respect its heritage, it's always a wonderful place, to be here, to social network, as George says, to be together - and I thank Stephen for that, in particular, for the great community that you have created under your leadership. I am proud to have been here in multiple contexts, and to address you today.

Second thing, to Bill Echikson, there he is, as some of you know, he was one of my earliest editors, and I want to tell you a short story, and it goes like this.

When you are about a 26 year old journalist, and you're asked to edit something, that is like giving weapons of mass destruction to a mad man.

To be an editor... to take copy, and to be able to make changes?

This was great!

And Bill trusted me to do that, and I appreciate it, particularily, because one time, one evening, (he certainly doesn't remember this) he said, "Can you edit this?"

It was Václav Havel's essay...

"We have to publish it, but it is a little bit long... just take some of the fat out, and we'll go with it"

So I said, "Sure, sounds great!"

I mean, as a 26 year old, in Paris, what else do you do but edit Václav Havel?

I am well aware that he is a writer... but, look, all writers need good editors. I am 26 years old... So, Lord knows, I should be able to do an adequate job.

So I did it... and of course, as you can imagine, the tools in my hand were so powerful, I couldn't resist. And suddenly, what Havel said, wasn't quite right. So I made a tweak here, and a tweak there.

By the end, it was as much Ken Cuckier, as it was Václav Havel. And I respect Bill for two things.

First thing... he looked at it and said, "OK, well, you know, I see what you did, and I can understand why that's not so bad, but I think actually, the original version wasn't quite as bad as..."

And he said something to me - he understood what I was doing, and said,

"Let's let Václav Havel be Václav Havel".

And I always remember that - that is sort of, in my mind, as an editor now, whenever I have to work on copy, I always think to myself, "It's not what I would say, but let's let Václav Havel be Václav Havel". So Thank you, Bill.

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There is a lot of information in the world today, and it is growing at a very, very fast pace. The good news is, that we can do new things with it, that we never could before. The bad news is, that is leaves us in a whole new perilous environment, with which society is unprepared.

(Kenneth Cukier, excerpted from this presentation)

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