The year of big data

Everyone seems to be talking about 2019 being the year of big data although, like most technological advancements, the general public don’t catch on until it is too late to influence anything.

As with most changes in technology, all but the most technologically literate see Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics as a bit science fiction and largely connected to the manufacturing production line.

However, AI is capable of much more than simply looking up a spreadsheet or a database, and certainly much more advanced than simply adding reminders to your phone or finding a tune to play! Already Google personal assistant can make phone calls to book appointments where the receiver doesn’t realise they are talking to a computer.

Today it is perfectly possible to store massive amounts of data and for that data to be in all sorts of digital form. Where we once talked about neatly stored databases or data warehouses, we now talk about data lakes where data is unstructured and in differing digital forms.

It has been estimated that every two days we generate the equivalent amount of data to that created between the beginning of time to the year 2000. While this may seem impossible, if one thinks about it then one can see how this could happen.

Whether it is going on line, moving around with your mobile telephone, street and store cameras, using chat applications or simply handing over a credit card for payment, they all create a digital footprint.

When we go to the supermarket or any other store, we do not think about the fact that we are providing a link between ourselves, our shopping habits, our typical spend or our typical shopping times.

It has become almost the norm for our mobile number to be given over to people with store cards, utility companies, landlords, local authorities, airlines, theatre bookings and so on.

Indeed, it would make for an interesting half hour to simply write down your name, address and telephone number and try and work out how many organisations have this information.

However, in days gone by this information could quite easily appear in several different databases or spread sheets, and need not interact unless sold from one source to another.

But this is no longer true with the power of AI to interrogate several databases at once and form logical links. But think about the other digital information that you convey on a regular basis.

Checking in on Facebook gives people your exact location and indicates if you are on holiday. Facebook also defines your relationships in many cases and indicates income levels and other things by the expenditure associated with what you do.

Facial recognition would allow AI to create details of your movements during a day. China now thinks that their facial recognition is over 99% accurate. With cameras in stores, streets, stations, airports coupled with GPS on your telephone, your digital footprint becomes much more than what is on a database.

Whilst governments try and enact data privacy laws to protect data, they invariable are running to catch up. Equally, most people don’t think about the digital data that they are creating.

There are doubtless advantages to be had from AI and other advancements in the next few years, but there are also potential dangers when put in the wrong hands.

There is a responsibility on the part of developers to ensure data privacy, but data ownership becomes much more difficult when applications are developed that require different organisations to cooperate.

There is also a responsibility on individuals to do what they can to protect their own data. There is a difference in official sources requirements for things such as security and police work, and what other groups seek to use for commercial gain.

The starting point for individuals may well be store cards that require your GPS phone number, and certainly social media. Something like Facebook can often tell if the householders are away on holiday but it can even give indications of income bracket, regular nights out or even views of the interior and exterior of homes.

If you wait for governments to catch up it will be too late.  Now is the time to start controlling your own data before big data and the use of AI stops it being your own.

Scroll to top