What is Data?
According to Wikipedia, Data is “uninterpreted information”. It then goes on to ask what type of Data are you interested in? Options include ‘a fictional android from Star Trek’, a book by Euclid, a moth, a British Drum & Bass musician, and a ‘non-governmental organisation founded by Bono’! 1 For this blog I’m interested in Computing Data, although the android lived an interesting life too …
Data is raw facts- numbers, text, images, symbols, etc. On it’s own data means nothing. Data needs to be interpreted, grouped & processed, in order to become usable information. After all Colonel Mustard, in the library, with the Candlestick, doesn’t mean anything. However, if you know you’re playing Cluedo, it makes all the difference!
What is information?
This leaves us with the understanding that information is interpreted data. Information is what we use to make decisions & decide future actions.
If you’ve ever applied for a mortgage, you know the amount of financial information you’re required to hand into the bank – Salary information; Bank Accounts, balances & statements for 6 months; Any loans; Details of current rent, etc. At it’s basic level it’s just figures on a page. The bank then groups this data together into Earnings & Outgoings. This information is then used to decide if a Mortgage approval will be given, and for home much.
In order for the decision to be useful, the processed data must be:
If we go back to our mortgage example, if the information is 2 years old, it’s not useful to enable us make an informed decision on a customers current financial situation. We may not know about a new gambling addiction that would rule out approving a mortgage. In the same way, if we believe a customer has an outstanding loan for €1,000, but it’s actually €10,000, that makes a big difference to a decision. Lastly, if the bank only records one salary, rather than two for a couple, the financial situation will not be complete and the decision cannot be correct.
In days gone by, all of the above mortgage decision was done on paper in your bank, where they knew your name. If they were still unsure, you’d get an important member of the community to give you a reference, i.e. priest, doctor, etc.! These days, it’s all on computers, for good or ill! As an IT professional, I’d say it’s progress, and point out the amazing things we can do now with IT. But then you couldn’t have put a country in debt to billions the old way …
What is Knowledge?
Knowledge it the understanding of the context of information. How to interpret the information.
Reverting back to our mortgage example for the last time, looking at one persons Income & Expenditure only gives the scoring team so much information to make a decision. However, if they have the same information for 1,000 previous scoring decisions, and the outcomes of the mortgages granted, then they will be able to look at the information with experienced eyes. So, looking at your expenditure and seeing a BetFair or PaddyPower online account regularly used, that is just information. However, if the last 20 people they gave a mortgage to with the same outgoings history got into financial difficulties, then that’s a concern. Only by having that context on the information, can the bank acquire the knowledge to look for the red flags.
We now know that data is the building block for knowledge. So, how does a computer store data?
That is to be continued in later blog…