It has now been over 260 years since Benjamin Franklin managed to trap electricity in a jar, bringing the world into a new era. It is safe to say that electricity has had a bigger impact on the world than almost anything else in the last 500 years. It has allowed for new manufacturing techniques, huge jumps forward in technological capabilities, and has vastly improved the lives of practically every person around the world.
Talking to a few people at the Big Data Innovation Summit in London, one of the most interesting things I heard was that people expect data to become like electricity in the next decade. It is unlikely to have the same kind of impact, changing the way that people live in a profound way, but in that we will be excited not by the electricity that allows technology to run, but by the technology itself.
To some extent we have begun to see this already, with the use of personal assistants from Google and Amazon. People are thinking more about how cool it is that they can simply say something and a box in the corner of the room will answer. There is little talk about the background data that allows this to happen, the millions of voices they can understand, the ways that they can retrieve the data, how they record certain phrases and not others, etc. It is a well packaged technology and few people would really think about how it actually works.
However, because of the nature of what data is - information about people and things - it naturally has more of a value as an entity in itself. This makes it more likely to be stolen. Where you may occasionally have electricity stolen by a neighbor, you aren’t going to find one person stealing millions of people’s electricity. It is this that makes it more difficult to see data becoming the next electricity, you can’t resell electricity after stealing it. You can’t even easily store electricity, which makes it infinitely more difficult to steal. Even if you do steal it, the danger is to the person trying to steal it, not the person who’s electricity has been stolen.
As we make our data more and more useable and the technology that utilizes it becomes increasingly intuitive with better user interfaces, the actual understanding of the data that underpins it is being lost. This is certainly no bad thing and shows the real power that it has and will continue to have moving forward. We need to make sure we are protecting our data in an effective and robust manner, which is the biggest challenge we currently face in seeing data spread wider than it already has.