In the world of Big Data the man with only Excel is blind

This morning’s Observer column.

One of the most famous quotes in the history of the computing industry is the assertion that “640KB ought to be enough for anybody”, allegedly made by Bill Gates at a computer trade show in 1981 just after the launch of the IBM PC. The context was that the Intel 8088 processor that powered the original PC could only handle 640 kilobytes of Random Access Memory (RAM) and people were questioning whether that limit wasn’t a mite restrictive.

Gates has always denied making the statement and I believe him; he’s much too smart to make a mistake like that. He would have known that just as you can never be too rich or too thin, you can also never have too much RAM. The computer on which I’m writing this has four gigabytes (GB) of it, which is roughly 6,000 times the working memory of the original PC, but even then it sometimes struggles with the software it has to run.

But even Gates could not have foreseen the amount of data computers would be called upon to handle within three decades…