Professor P.C. Mahalanobis in the age of Big Data

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July 4, 2023

Professor P.C. Mahalanobis in the age of Big Data


  • Professor P.C. Mahalanobis, a renowned statistical pioneer in India, made significant contributions to the field of statistics and survey culture in the country. His establishment of the Indian Statistical Institute and his expertise in handling large-scale data left an indelible mark on India’s statistical landscape. In the era of Big Data, where copious amounts of data are generated, Mahalanobis’s strategies and approaches continue to hold relevance. This article explores Mahalanobis’s methods for handling big data, the advantages it offers, challenges associated with it, and potential approaches that align with Mahalanobis’s principles in the current era.

Mahalanobis’s Strategy in Handling Large-Scale Data:

  • Mahalanobis encountered the challenge of big data during his time when his surveys produced substantial amounts of data. To effectively analyze and utilize this data for planning purposes, he persuaded the government to procure India’s first digital computers for the Indian Statistical Institute. This marked the introduction of computers in India and their utilization for handling vast amounts of data. Mahalanobis’s progressive approach showcases his inclination towards embracing technology for data collection and analysis.

Embracing Technology and Mathematical Calculations:

  • Throughout his career, Mahalanobis embraced technology and leveraged it for data collection and analysis. He built simple machines to facilitate surveys and measurements, demonstrating his interest in incorporating technological advancements into statistical practices. By utilizing digital computers and employing complex mathematical calculations, Mahalanobis aimed to streamline and expedite the process of analyzing large-scale datasets. His strategies enabled effective planning and decision-making.

Built-in Cross-Checks for Data Accuracy:

  • Inspired by Kautilya’s Arthashastra, Mahalanobis introduced the concept of built-in cross-checks in his surveys. This approach ensured the accuracy and reliability of the collected data by minimizing errors and contradictions. Implementing cross-checks improved the quality control of statistical analysis and maintained the integrity of the findings.

Advantages of Big Data:

  • The article highlights several advantages associated with big data:
  • Improved Decision-Making: Big data analytics provides valuable insights and patterns derived from vast amounts of data, facilitating data-driven decision-making and improved outcomes.
  • Enhanced Customer Understanding: By analyzing large and diverse datasets, organizations can gain a deeper understanding of customer preferences, behavior patterns, and trends, enabling personalized marketing strategies, product development, and customer experiences.
  • Operational Efficiency: Big data analytics optimizes operational processes by identifying bottlenecks, inefficiencies, and areas for improvement, resulting in streamlined workflows, reduced costs, and enhanced productivity.
  • Innovation and New Product Development: Big data insights drive innovation by analyzing market trends, consumer demands, and competitive landscapes, enabling organizations to develop products tailored to specific market needs.
  • Fraud Detection and Security: Big data analytics helps in real-time detection and prevention of fraudulent activities, reducing financial losses and protecting sensitive information.
  • Personalized Marketing and Customer Experience: Big data enables targeted and personalized marketing campaigns by segmenting the audience and delivering customized messages and experiences.
  • Improved Healthcare and Public Health: Big data analytics revolutionizes healthcare by analyzing patient data, medical records, and clinical research, leading to better diagnoses, personalized treatment plans, and proactive public health interventions.

Challenges Associated with Big Data:

  • The article acknowledges the key challenges linked to big data:
  • Data Quality and Integrity: Ensuring the quality and integrity of big data can be challenging due to errors, inconsistencies, and biases that can affect the accuracy and reliability of analyses and insights.
  • Data Privacy and Security: Safeguarding sensitive information and preventing unauthorized access or data breaches are crucial concerns in big data systems, necessitating robust security measures and compliance with privacy regulations.
  • Data Storage and Management: Storing and managing large volumes of data require scalable and efficient storage solutions, along with managing data across various sources and formats.
  • Data Processing and Analysis: Processing and analyzing massive datasets in a timely manner can be computationally intensive and time-consuming, demanding specialized frameworks, algorithms, and infrastructure.
  • Data Integration and Interoperability: Integrating and making sense of diverse data sources is challenging due to differences in formats, structures, and semantics, requiring interoperability and data integration across systems and platforms.

Way Forward: Mahalanobis’s Potential Approach to Big Data and AI:

  • Drawing inspiration from Mahalanobis’s principles, the article suggests a way forward in handling big data:
  • Embrace Technological Advancements: Continuously explore emerging technologies, such as advanced analytics tools, cloud computing, and distributed computing frameworks, to efficiently process and analyze large-scale datasets.
  • Foster Statistical Expertise: Invest in training programs and educational initiatives to develop a skilled workforce capable of extracting insights from big data. Promote interdisciplinary collaboration involving statisticians, technologists, domain experts, and policymakers.
  • Ensure Data Integrity and Quality: Establish robust data governance frameworks, implement cross-checks, validation processes, and quality control measures to enhance data accuracy, reliability, and transparency. Adhere to ethical guidelines to safeguard privacy and address fairness in AI and big data applications.
  • Encourage Ethical AI and Big Data Practices: Promote transparency, fairness, and accountability in AI and big data applications through guidelines and regulations. Foster responsible data use and continuous evaluation of AI systems to mitigate risks and ensure positive societal impact.
  • Foster Collaboration and Interdisciplinary Approaches: Encourage collaboration across disciplines, sectors, and organizations to leverage diverse expertise in tackling big data challenges. Foster partnerships between academia, industry, and government entities for knowledge sharing and the development of innovative solutions.
  • Invest in Capacity Building and Education: Invest in educational programs to build a skilled workforce capable of harnessing the potential of big data and AI. Promote data literacy and provide training opportunities to empower individuals and organizations to effectively collect, analyze, and interpret data.
  • Inform Evidence-based Decision-making: Advocate for evidence-based decision-making by integrating data-driven insights into policy formulation and resource allocation. Encourage policymakers to leverage big data analytics to understand societal trends, make informed decisions, and address pressing challenges effectively.

The Conclusion:

  • Professor P.C. Mahalanobis’s legacy as a statistical luminary remains relevant in the age of big data and AI. His visionary leadership and progressive approach to incorporating technology and mathematics into statistical practices serve as a guiding light. By embracing technological advancements, fostering statistical expertise, ensuring data integrity, encouraging ethical practices, fostering collaboration, investing in education, and promoting evidence-based decision-making, we can effectively navigate the challenges and harness the potential of big data, just as Mahalanobis did during his time.

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Professor P.C. Mahalanobis in the age of Big Data | Vaid ICS Institute