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Managing the Exaflood

You already know that Google can track the flu, capture the zeitgeist, and make a mean guacamole. But did you know that Google has its virtual finger on the (feeble) pulse of the economy? Hal Varian, Google's chief economist, says that Google can track unemployment well enough to predict the end of a recession. All those searches for "unemployment benefits," "where's the nearest unemployment office," and "resume advice" add up to a remarkable likeness of the "real" number of new filings. And when those filings peak, says Varian, it means a recession is on the wane. 
Varian was here at the AAAS Meeting to talk about "Managing the Exaflood," the deluge of data that's gushing out of our increasingly-powerful computers. All the googlings of the planet are just a drop in this flood: scientists in every field are producing collecting vast stores of data, and then there's YouTube, and Facebook, and Hulu, and all the computer games in the world. (If you want to know how much data is out there, check out the helpfully titled study, How Much Information?)

Will we drown in the flood, or surf it to some better, more perfectly-informed place? Who can say? But today's speakers--Varian plus Larry Smarr (California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology) and Chris Greer, of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy--are definitely building surf boards, not arks.
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