Data is the new oil a capitalist’s statement. Data for good is a social intent

World leaders are now congregating at the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Summit to discuss the challenges of the new world driven by the twin challenges of sustainability and rapid technological changes.

The discussion around sustainability has repeatedly highlighted the need for balance.The list of things that are in excess and their consequences is a large one: excessive emissions have led to climate change, excessive consumption to waste, excessive water usage to droughts, excessive concretization in cities has caused flooding and so on. It is therefore surprising that many business models of the twenty-first century, largely based around technology, are about disruption or creating an imbalance and profiting from it. The consequences of imbalance are mostly seen in the long term and if allowed to go unchecked, disruption caused by a business at one level may lead to huge imbalances in society.

The desire for growth and human ambition are a given. The growing footprint of the corporation means that ground rules too need a refresh or a new articulation. Data and infrastructure that extends beyond social and national boundaries cannot be left with a few. Data is the new oil is a capitalist’s statement. Data for good is a social intent. The societal contract around data and very large companies must factor in intent, rapid change, the changing role of government and oversight. Balance between profit and public good.

With so much data about ourselves being available privacy and security will be a serious challenge. Your electric car managed largely by computers will know where you go and whom you meet. Your online searches and consumption of news will tell data miners about your likes and dislikes and political leanings. Personal digital assistants Smart TVs, Smart Refrigerators and personal robots who will work on voice activated commands. They will be able to listen in to your private conversations.

Your privacy will be seriously compromised with your data being available to businesses and governments. A worrying trend as this can be used to keep societies under undue surveillance. CCTV cameras are increasingly being used to record activities in public spaces, drone based cameras will certainly pick up speed too. While these are now being used to help people during emergencies, natural disasters and to keep people safe during terrorist threats, misuse is not far away. Technology such as this can easily be used to snoop around and monitor people.

AI will automate many of the tasks and while the long run may create more jobs, the short term may see huge disruptions. The 4 th industrial revolution or 4IR a term coined to represent this technological change will be a force of disruption by excluding people with less education and fewer skills. People will constantly have to learn new skills to stay relevant and those who won’t will find themselves lost in the new age. Governments and businesses will need to up the ante on jobs and reskilling. Talent development, lifelong learning, and career reinvention are going to be critical to the future workforce.

As we are already seeing today, the economic benefits of technology and its wealth creation ability can serve the interests of small, powerful groups above the rest. The owners of the AI algorithms would gain disproportionately in such a society. According to the World Economic Forum Global Risks Report the economic benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution are becoming more concentrated among a small group. When talking about shaping a new market architecture at WEF Raghuram Rajan mentioned that while today we benefit from scale and efficiency provided by global platforms, will this continue to promote innovation and equity going forward?

All the more reason for global leaders, international organizations, business organizations, academia, and civil society to address these challenges and create a world that aligns with common goals for the future. Data is an important part of this discussion and is now perhaps the oil that lubricates global business. However, data is the new oil is a capitalist’s statement. Data for good is a social intent which can help address the increasing inequality and create a better world for all by providing everyone equitable access to data and technology.

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