Data scientists help people create knowledge from data, including sometimes million of gigabytes of data. An example is iTunes using the number of songs and length of each song on a CD to find the name of the CD, the artist, and the titles for each song. To data scientists, tracks on a CD are not music, but data.
Until the turn of the century, someone's knowledge was limited by their access to a library or university. Now, because of the increasing power and storage capacity of computers, and the increase in data being published, someone's knowledge is limited by their ability to process data. For example, for $600 you can buy a hard drive capable of storing all the music in the world.
Previously, the limited amount of available data made data science nearly impossible. Today, because almost everything we do involves a computer people produce data as a by-product of their daily lives. For example, every month 30 billion pieces of contact are shared on Facebook, with no signs of slowing. In 2009, the CEO of Hewlett Packard stated that, "more data will be created in the next four years than in the history of the planet". Contemporary Analysis believes that data science is valuable because it allows us to turn this data into a product that answers important questions and reduces waste.
Data scientists are helping consumers answer questions about where they should eat, what movies they should watch, and who they should date. It is helping governments answer questions about how to get people to switch to public transportation and more effectively prosecute graffiti artists. Data scientists are also helping businesses reduce waste by focusing their sales efforts, selecting the right market position, improving planning, and identifying the best employees.
The future of data science is limited by the number of people that are able to extract insight from billions of data points. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that by 2018, the United States will need between 140,000 and 190,000 more data scientists skilled in deep data analytics, and 1.5 million data-savvy managers.
To meet this need, we need to train people to have the computer science skills to organize data, the mathematical skills to extract meaning, and the writing and visualization skills to present the data. After all, according to Google's Chief Economist Hal Varaian, Data Science will be the "sexy" job of the coming decade.