big data


Definition of big data

: an accumulation of data that is too large and complex for processing by traditional database management tools

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Did You Know?

Big data is a new addition to our language, but exactly how new is not an easy matter to determine. A 1980 paper by Charles Tilly provides an early documented use of big data, but Tilly wasn't using the word in the exact same way we use it today; rather, he used the phrase "big-data people" to refer to historians engaged in data-rich fields such as cliometrics. Today, big data can refer to large data sets or to systems and solutions developed to manage such large accumulations of data, as well as for the branch of computing devoted to this development. Francis X. Diebold, a University of Pennsylvania economist, who has written a paper exploring the origin of big data as a term, a phenomenon, and a field of study, believes the term "probably originated in lunch-table conversations at Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI) in the mid 1990s…."

Examples of big data in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The proposed health code system bears similarities to China's social credit system, an ambitious social-engineering style project that uses big data and a combination of rewards and punishments to incentivize good behavior. Nectar Gan, CNN, "With the coronavirus under control, this Chinese city wants to score and rank its residents based on their health and lifestyle," 25 May 2020 But as researchers and policymakers turn to big data and technology for solutions, new questions about privacy are being raised. Dallas News, "Can we get ahead of the next surge of coronavirus cases? There’s an app for that.," 23 May 2020 The new forecasts are based on government statistics, the first glimpse of the reopening process and new big data sources, the bank said. Matt Egan, CNN, "This new unemployment forecast rivals the depths of the Great Depression," 13 May 2020 Read More: Japan’s Hottest Fund to Join SBI’s Growing Financial Empire Industry 4.0’s aim is to combine robotics, machine learning, cloud computing, big data and the Internet of Things to create smart factories capable of more efficient production. Sarah Syed,, "German Venture Capital Firm Redstone Raising $217 Million Fund," 12 May 2020 The latest wave of AI advances, built on a mix of machine learning and big data, has given us gadgets that respond to spoken commands and self-driving cars that recognize objects on the road ahead. Will Knight, Wired, "Watson's Creator Wants to Teach AI a New Trick: Common Sense," 9 May 2020 Now, even the villainy of big data feels quaint, and Dolores’s bloody fight for free will against any notion of government control may seem more fraught than originally intended. David Sims, The Atlantic, "Westworld Season 3 Had a Villain Problem," 5 May 2020 In addition to enforcing antitrust laws, Vestager now oversees policy related to cybersecurity, big data, and artificial intelligence. Isaac Chotiner, The New Yorker, "The Coronavirus and the Future of Big Tech," 29 Apr. 2020 Techniques developed for these big data settings need to be adapted to the much smaller datasets that most other industries have. Andrew Ng, Fortune, "A.I. will be crucial to companies outside of Silicon Valley—and they need a new playbook for it," 26 Apr. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'big data.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of big data

1996, in the meaning defined above

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Time Traveler for big data

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The first known use of big data was in 1996

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Last Updated

2 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

“Big data.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 5 Jun. 2020.

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