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In a Big Data era, can we still afford a "lost generation" ?

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For decades now, we have talked and discussed at great length about a “lost generation”. At first, the term related to the Great War, when hundreds of thousands of young men were sent to their death for the “greater good” of securing sordid, shaky and unlikely alliances between what was believed to be “sovereign countries”.

Then, after some jolly good years during the happy twenties, another form of “loss” was created almost ex-nihilo from the early forms of what would then become “quantitative finance”: lives and families were destroyed across the world in a day, after the so-called “Great Depression”[1].

From this very moment, researchers believed they would solve the misery of this planet by sorting out the economy, in order to make it “function”, that is to distribute wealth evenly throughout the different economic stakeholders.

The Second World War and its most revolting horrors probably pushed this idea of “sorting out the economy” in order to “sort out society” as the definitive answer to all Humanity sorrows. Grand Winners and Shameful Losers and/or collaborators put all their might into this impossible question:

“How can we create eternal growth in a finite system? (i.e. Earth)“

From this very idea, theories had stemmed, or mostly two, rooted from eternal observations:

  1. All women and men are born equal, hence should be living their (economic) life as such;
  2. There is a divide between ones who can bring wealth into a pot and eventually distribute its effects between the ones who can’t.

Surprisingly, most people have been adhering to one or the other, without seeing the typical Gödel incompleteness of both of them being true, yet totally contradictory.

A great deal of pages have been written about this divide, all of them from much more famous authors than myself. However, an answer the doomed question has only been attempted to be answered by the tenets of capitalism.

And they did so, not by ideology, as Marxism could be taxed of, but by the most elegant and non-negotiable tool for proving themselves right: mathematics.

The “Mother of all Science”, and particularly its wonderful concept of infinity, became so attractive it eventually dissipated the most common-sense idea that nothing could ever grow to infinity. By the late 70’s, properties, wages, savings, currencies, commodities, and of course, debts were widely accepted to be fluctuating “within” limitless realms.

Calculus, or the study of changes, discovered to solve engineering challenges, suddenly became the new Eldorado as it allows us to deal with infinite sequences and series.

Even when one is now talking about a finite amount of currency, the end of the Gold Standard brought the very nature of our money to be also defined as infinite fluctuations against other currencies.

We then must ask the question: who in society can manipulate high-level calculus? From the educated-enough to have been exposed to its tricks and treacheries during high school and/or university, how many can still use it? Without any complacency, do you remember how to do a two-variables partial derivative? Or even how to use the quotient rule for the derivative of ln(x)/x?

But of course, the most common answer would be:

“Why would I ever need this in my life?”

Quite possibly, because every penny you put into your bank account, your savings, your pension or your mortgage all rely on some form of mathematical model based on advanced calculus (usually partial derivatives) being Brownian Motion, Black‑Scholes, Monte‑Carlo or any other trendy (Big Data) analytical tool in use.

And strangely enough, modern societies seem to consistently produce less mathematically able populations throughout the years. If you do remember the quotient rule or simply that e(x) is its own derivative and integral, and if your university days are (long) gone, try your “social-network connected” offspring or relatives, and you may be surprised.

You might then think twice before choosing to go to these wonderful Business Schools, where you are to be told:

“In order to sell a product, you need good advertising”

Don’t laugh or nod your head: it was heard during a corporate seminar of a MBA program from one of the top 20 Business Schools in the world (FT ranking)

Thankfully the “Great” wars are over,
but, as mathematics and it best friend Computer Science have taken over, we may not have ever created such a “lost generation” at such a rapid pace.
Don’t be “lost in science”, come and study with Data ScienceTech Institute.


[1]It is rather amusing (or sad) to observe that no matter how “Great” it was, since 2008 the American Federal Reserve System has been consistently pouring more (printed) money every single month into the US economy than it did during the whole five years of the “Great Depression”.

About the Author

Sébastien Corniglion

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CEO for Teaching and Research, Data ScienceTech Institute