The Economist recently ran an excellent 14 page special report on the exponential growth of data. The far-reaching effects of data availability are fascinating – for example, when statistics on restaurants violating health regulations were published online, the problem largely resolved itself. Restaurants were forced to get their act together, or go out of business! Data is definitely the currency of the modern era.
The description of how Google uses feedback from users to refine its systems is also fascinating. Take for instance the spell checker – which is now accurate in over 50 languages, based on people clicking those “did you mean….” links. Compare that to Microsoft spending millions of dollars to build the conventional MS Word spellcheck, based on a complex set of rules. Sometimes an approximation based on statistics gets you close enough to the truth!