The Root of Data Science

| September 2, 2022

The Root of Data Science

Many people may think of data science as a more modern career path. While the history of Big Data is indeed short, the precursors paving the way for this mega enterprise date back thousands of years ago.

According to the World Economic Forum, the beginning of early data was marked by the use of tally sticks. We began to see ancient humans use these tools to store and analyze data as long ago as 18,000 BCE. Some of the earliest records of prehistoric data devices were made of Ishango bone in what is now Uganda. This discovery, made in 1960, helped us understand how Paleolithic tribes would keep track of trading and stock by carving notches into sticks and bone. In 2,400 BCE, the invention of the abacus changed everything. This tool, which was constructed in Babylon specifically for performing calculations, was the first of its kind. This is also the time period when the first libraries began appearing, signifying the beginning of human mass data storage (WEF, 2015).

Thousands of years later, another great milestone was created in the world of data when statistics emerged in London in 1663. John Graunt carried out the first recorded experiment using statistical analysis: an attempt at an early detection and warning system of the Bubonic Plague, which was circulating Europe at deathly rates during this time. A couple hundred years later, in 1880, countries were already participating in a full-blown census, calculating and categorizing their populations by age, gender and other statistics (WEF, 2015).

In 1926 we saw the early days of modern data storage: wireless technology. In an interview for Colliers, inventor Nikola Tesla stated that when wireless technology is “perfectly applied the whole Earth will be converted into a huge brain, which in fact it is, all things being particles of a real and rhythmic whole … and the instruments through which we shall be able to do this will be amazingly simple compared to our present telephone. A man will be able to carry one in his vest pocket.”

In 1928, Fritz Pfleumer, invented a method of storing information magnetically on tape. The progress he made is still in use today, with the large majority of digital data being stored magnetically on computer hard disks (WEF, 2015).

Each decade since the early 1900’s has brought immense progression in the world of modern data science. Today, it is truly an enterprise that generates billions of dollars, creating millions of careers and essentially powering our entire world. While it can be hard to remember or even understand its roots, data science has come a long way thanks to the early inventors and civilizations that molded its path.

This contributed blog post was written by students from the Tehama Group Communications.