It Was Big Data, Not Blofeld, That Killed James Bond

(Danjaq, LLC, United Artists Corporation, Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.)

(Danjaq, LLC, United Artists Corporation, Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.)

The man who once would've been James Bond's boss says the glory days of the lone superspy are done, that data-crunching headquarters analysts are the heroes these days in thwarting international plots.

"That [Bond] model, if it was ever true, is completely over," said Sir John Sawers, chief of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) from 2009 to 2014, according to The Harvard Gazette. "Now, the most important person in any intelligence service is the data analyst, because it's the data analyst who will tell you where the threats are coming from and where the opportunities are emerging that you as an intelligence agency can exploit."

Sawers' remarks are just the latest from Western intelligence officials concerned with their agencies' abilities to wrangle and make sense of big data, the unending flood of information created and distributed on public and classified networks. Desperate to catch up, the U.S. intelligence community recently completed a public contest in which programmers attempted to design algorithms to sort through the mountains of public data and within second produce intelligence reports. (The results were mixed at best.)

Related: This Intelligence Report Was Written By an Algorithm (RealClearLife)

The one entity that seems to have seen this wave of change coming better than most, appropriately, is the James Bond franchise itself. 

Way back in 1995, in "Goldeneye," Bond's boss, M, dressed Bond down, calling him a "dinosaur" and a "relic of the Cold War."

The last few Daniel Craig Bond films have directly addressed the fallen stature of spy-in-the-field. In 2012's "Skyfall," the young, cyber-specialist Q tells Bond that he "can do more damage on my laptop sitting in my pajamas before my first cup of Earl Grey than you can do in a year in the field."

In 2015, it was a new M who was on the defensive when a(n evil) bureaucrat sarcastically says, "You can't tell me an agent in the field can last long against all those drones and satellites."

"Yes, you have information," M says. "You can find out all about a man, track him down, keep an eye on him. But you have to look him in the eye. All the tech you have can't help you with that. A license to kill also means a license not to kill."

(That was a quaint idea even by 2015, as the U.S. in particular had taken to targeting groups of suspected terrorists for drone strikes based on their age or the metadata linked to their phones.)

Luckily for us all, however, Bond is fictional and therefore can still be the star of the silver screen even if his kind may be increasingly overshadowed by the dedicated professionals in front of their computer screens back in London.

Now, who wants to talk about who should play the next Bond?

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