There’s a reason every government and corporation wants to hoard as much data on as many people as possible. Gather enough data, says Alex “Sandy” Pentland, director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Human Dynamics Laboratory, and you can achieve a “God’s-eye view of humanity”—which he’ll admit is a little scary.

But, as he argues in the October issue of Scientific American, it is also extraordinarily promising. Used correctly, he says, big data can perform miracles as diverse as preventing pandemics and getting the federal government to function again. In this video Pentland answers questions about big data and its role in society.