Data Science and the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything

In “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, Douglas Adams tells the story of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings who build a computer named Deep Thought to calculate “the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.” After seven and a half million years, Deep Thought outputs an unintelligible answer: 42.

When they probed Deep Thought for more information it tells them that they did not understand the answer because they did not understand what they had asked.

The moral: make sure you have a good question before you start looking for an answer.

So is the case with “data science”.

You can employ the most sophisticated data science techniques with the right data crunching technologies, but without clear goals you can’t make sense of the numbers.

Based on this principle, I believe that business analysts contribute the most to the success of any “data science” project: they know what to ask, and they know what an answer should look like.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen many organizations invest heavily in machine learning experts and statisticians who don’t understand the business. They are simply building another Deep Thought who will return unactionable results like “42”.

All this could have been avoided if more people just read science fiction.


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