Proper analysis of big data can solve for many things: predicting customer behavior, streamlining supply lines, and creating highly targeted offers that drive sales. As computing power and analytic prowess grows, problems once considered "unsolvable" will quickly become mundane (though fundamental to remaining competitive for businesses).
But some problems—not business problems, but real-world challenges—are more fun if they're unsolved. Data analysis is so powerful it can solve for these old mysteries—but should it?
Just like the truth about the man in the iron mask is far less interesting than the stories we tell, these four mysteries are better left to our imaginations than our data analysis.
The Voynich Manuscript
The Voynich Manuscript is an illustrated codex that's been carbon-dated to the 15th century. It is written in an unknown language, and appears to describe plants either native to North America or of unknown origin. It has been alternately described as a lost Aztec or Mayan text, a hoax, or a coded language.
If there is some pattern to the unknown language in the Voynich Manuscript, it would not be difficult for a computer and a database of known languages to attempt to crack it—just like breaking a code. An analyst would still have to make sense of the text (assuming it isn't gibberish), but much like the original Enigma breakers, once the code is cracked, deciphering the message it contains will be the easy part.
Plato described a "lost continent," destroyed by some apocalypse (or punishment by the gods). Several attempts to identify Atlantis with historical events have been attempted, but so far, none has proven conclusive.
Assuming Atlantis wasn't a metaphor (this is Plato we're talking about), locating an entire lost continent—or even an island—is a matter of combing through the ever-increasing amount of data about the ocean and what lies underneath the water that covers 70 percent of the planet. With underwater buildings such as Cleopatra's Palace and cities such as Pheia (itself a candidate for Atlantis), if there is an entire submerged continent or island somewhere in the Mediterranean or Atlantic, finding it with enough data should be a snap.
Spoiler alert: Atlantis was a metaphor.
The Bermuda Triangle
A section of the Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda, Florida, and Puerto Rico is often associated with a higher-than-normal number of shipwrecks and airplane crashes. Everything from aliens to ghosts has been blamed.
It turns out that the Bermuda Triangle isn't even on the top 10 most dangerous shipping channels. Still, assuming there is a pattern of boat or airplane disasters, examining worldwide statistics about maritime and aviation disasters could find it. Of course, then Agents Scully and Mulder wouldn't have anything to investigate on their next vacation.
In cornfields across America and Europe, patterns have appeared since the 1950s, visible from aircraft. Sometimes they're circles, sometimes they're other designs. Bored farm kids are the most obvious explanation—but that doesn't stop speculation that there's some other force at work, from aliens to secret agents communicating with each other.
If you've noted a pattern in all of these cases, it's that big data analysis can find signals in large amounts of noise.
There are challenges your business can solve right now through data analysis. Unlike the mystery of Atlantis, leaving them untouched won't be fun—it will put you at an enormous competitive disadvantage.
Taking advantage of data analytics is simple, and any business can start at any time. For more information, see our posts about analytics in the hands of consumers and the business insight tools you already have. Then see how to tell a good story about your analysis.