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The Data That Bind Us

by Andrew White  |  January 19, 2018  |  Comments Off on The Data That Bind Us

It’s been a fun week.  After reading several articles that drew me to blog, I sat down last evening and read an even more important article.  It was “Free Exchange-The Digital Proletariat” in this week’s US print edition of the Economist.  The article’s sub-title: Economists propose a radical solution to the problems posed by artificial intelligence.  The article really does not talk about AI per se; it explores the key asset that makes AI valuable, that being data.

The argument made (based in a research paper explored) starts with the premise that AI is beholden to data.  This is clear: AI needs lots of data.  Some might argue that more data is better, even though there is ample evidence that too much data can in fact worsen conclusions drawn from its analysis.  See Can AI Do Too Much and Misunderstanding Information and Economy.

Second the article (and paper) recognizes an odd fact: we, as consumers, are the pioneers of the digital frontier.  We are creating all manner of digital fingerprints and trails all around us.  Firms that use AI need this data.


Now for the next step: currently this data is pretty much free.  We give it away, sometimes even signing all kinds of releases.  Really this data is an asset; our asset.  So why can we not charge for it?  Well that crosses a line: no jurisdiction or sovereign state can agree the degree to which any data is a legal asset.  Is the data about your blood pressure your data?  The hospitals?  Some industries operate like data is an asset, most do not.


The article also connects to my favorite topic: how AI will soon drive a renaissance in productivity growth.  See 2018 Won’t See a Massive Productivity Boost From AI – 2019 Might Show It.  In this the article the author suggests that we need to change the ownership and monetary dimensions of data.  If we can agree that data is an asset and we start to charge for its use, AI would be more focused on market-based problems (due to the profit maximizing goal) leading to highly and more profitable and efficient automation- thus driving productivity. 


The article the muses, mostly high level, about what might happen if data were an asset.  It’s quite unclear overall as there are significant political and social hurdles.  But overall the article is extremely thought provoking. Quite a busy week!  Hope it was as thought provoking for you too.   Is time for some Doom!  

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Category: artificial-intelligence  data-as-an-asset  digital-business  digital-economy  pc-gaming  productivity  

Andrew White
Research VP
8 years at Gartner
22 years IT industry

Andrew White is a Distinguished Analyst and VP. His roles include Chief of Research and Content Lead for Data and Analytics. His main research focus is data and analytics strategy, platforms, and governance. Read Full Bio

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