According to Socialnomics, more people around the world own an internet enabled device than a toothbrush. Our data is being gathered, stored, and processed at an alarming rate. Alphabet (Google’s parent company), Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft are the most valuable companies in the world. They have turned our data into a valuable commodity and are getting richer and more powerful off the back of what we feed them, for free, on a daily basis. We live in a world where few of us want to give up the ability to use Google’s search engine, Amazon’s one-day delivery or Facebook’s newsfeed, but at what cost to us? We decided that we should have an inspiration session in order to help us better understand the topic. This is a link to the reading list we pulled together: Inspiration Session - Data. The New Gold Rush?

Our inspiration session lead to really interesting conversation.  Here is a quick summary of some of our thinking:

  • People don’t always think about their future-self and share data both consciously and unconsciously which could come back to haunt them later on. Today, this might lead to you being turned down for a dream job because of a remark you made on twitter 10 years ago. Tomorrow, as AI algorithms make more and more decisions about our life, the implications could be much harder hitting.

  • When it’s brought to our attention we become very aware of how powerful our data can be, but when we aren't thinking about it . . .  we just aren't thinking about it.

  • Data can be a force for good, but in the wrong hands, the implications are great.

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These implications don’t only weight large on individuals. No matter what sector they operate in, organisations can no longer afford not to take data seriously. Increasingly, the way organisations gather, store and use data will be critical to their success. Whilst moral and ethical issues loom large, an organisation's ability to integrate the data they hold and make decisions based upon it will mark them out. Organisations like Facebook and Google already understand that data is a valuable asset and other private and public sector organisations are also starting to realise that data has the power to make or break them.

The question for individuals is now - How much is your data worth to you?  In the Gilded Age 2.0, a laissez-faire attitude toward data has encouraged a new class of robber barons to arise. The trust we have in the organisations with whom we transact is becoming increasingly important in relation to the decisions we make, yet 39% of us leave our devices unprotected.  Whether we are comfortable with it or not, the truth is the choice over whether we share our data or not has been eroded to the point where it is now better to think in terms of how well we do it, rather than should we do it at all.

But will data ever fully replace human intuition? Predictions are relatively easy to make, but people are complicated. Perhaps the future will be more about augmented intelligence than artificial intelligence. Organisations like IDEO believe that data-driven intelligence will soon be embedded in nearly everything, extending the capabilities of humans in a way that feels natural, rather than deferring all decision making responsibility to bots themselves. It’s heartening that whilst we here at Bromford Lab are starting to explore how we blend human centred design and innovation with data and business intelligence, large well established (and respected) organisations like IDEO are also investing in data by bringing organisations such as Datascope in-house.

During our conversation today we found that it is easy to imagine dystopian futures where drones patrol our streets using facial recognition to impose order and ’intelligent’ billboards bother us with personalised ads as we walk through shopping centres. But we should also focus on the great benefits that sharing our data can bring; from improved health services through to better-connected cities, the benefits are many.

Data can no doubt be a force for good, but the question is can we trust ourselves to do the right things with the intelligence it brings?

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