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Data – Global Challenges

The future of data is a broad topic, which can cover a range of issues: some technical, some regulatory, some social and others philosophical. The web is still a young technology – it has only been twenty years since Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau invented it at CERN: It will take many decades for us to fully understand its impact on our society. And the pace of change on the Internet, and that which is enabled by the Internet, is speeding up.  Whatever happens, as it continues to develop, we’ll be presented with more opportunities and more challenges.  The web is a fundamentally democratic platform, and it reflects both positive and negative aspects of the offline world.

If we take the field of data to encompass all digital factual information, the current work of both leaders and emerging companies suggest the issues that will arise in years to come. Companies such as IBM, Oracle and SAS are making strides in data mining and database management. Their research shows that intelligent systems will become increasingly prevalent. Other organisations, like Amazon, Sun and even Google, are demonstrating the amazing benefits in scale and interoperability that come through moving data storage into the cloud. And, if one was to talk to the people who are driving the web forward, they anticipate a more powerful, flexible and useful web in the years to come. The much-touted ‘semantic web’—in which the relationships between pieces of information will be both apparent and useable — may not be imminent, but it’s certainly within sight.  Its advent will drive further research, and it will also make the web more useful to people around the world.

As investment and regulation follows rapid development of potential technologies, they will have to adapt to the new challenges of the online world. Google is involved in many of these, but for me the big issue at the heart of the future is that of access to information…to data. Today, anyone with an internet connection has access to more information, quickly and easily, than was available a generation ago to anyone not connected to a research library or university. That’s an amazing development, but we should remember that less than a quarter of people globally have access to the web. New developments will increase the speed, scale and sophistication of the data we can use, but, for most people, there is still a high barrier to access.

Access to information is the great leveller. It empowers citizens and consumers alike. That’s why it’s imperative that access to data be fast, cheap, and ubiquitous, whether you are in the New York, Shanghai, Lagos or Patagonia. Right now, in many parts of Africa and Asia, internet connectivity is both expensive and slow. As such, the positive benefits of the information age have been unevenly enjoyed. Addressing this disparity is a clear and significant challenge for the future.

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15 Responses to “Data – Global Challenges”
  1. Direct Feedback says:

    I see that a major change in the next ten years will be how we use location data. Right now we have moved on from the notion of vouchers for 20c off a latte as we walk past Starbucks to the arena where things are starting to become less reactive. A great example of more proactive location data use is Sense Networks ( who, as it says on their hoempage, are “indexing the real world using location data for predictive analysis.” Take a look at their MacroSense platfom. Airsage ( is another one to watch – looking at both location and movement together to predict logitics and travel times – real time.

  2. John Carr says:

    Picking up on the perspective of who has access to what information, one area of major focus in recent years has been to do with child protection. It depends on how broadly you define “child online protection laws” but if you take child abuse images as one test, what follows is an extract from an authoritative survey carried out by the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children:

    “Of the 187 Interpol Member Countries, only 29 have legislation sufficient to combat child pornography offenses….
    93 have no legislation at all that specifically addresses child pornography.
    Of the remaining Interpol Member Countries that do have legislation specifically addressing child

    54 do not define child pornography in national legislation;
    24 do not provide for computer‐facilitated offenses; and
    36 do not criminalize possession of child pornography, regardless of the intent to distribute.”


    I acknowledge that dealing with child abuse images is not the only thing that matters but for many of us it is a touchstone or iconic issue, a sort of signature crime of the internet. The internet has completely changed and hugely expanded the “market” for child abuse images and yet we have the technical means at our disposal at least to get rid of a very large part of it from the web – the easiest and most widely used of internet interfaces. A handful of companies in a handful of countries are implementing a tried and tested solution but the great majority of companies in the great majority of countries are not. Why?

    The UN (ITU) also did a survey. It will be published in full fairly soon. The survey Went to 191 national governments. Here are some key findings:

    54% of Least Developed Countries either said there were no programmes in their schools or wider educational system that addressed online child safety. Fewer than half the respondents in all countries confirmed that there were any internet safety programmes available for parents. Fewer than half the total number of countries had anything in place to help teachers understand the online safety issues facing their pupils.

    Then you have the survey data from Professor David Finklehor, Janis Wolak et al at the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center and within the UK and Europe the LSE’s Professor Sonia Livingstone’s work which, once again, shows that there are significant numbers of children for whom the internet has been the source of harm and worry.

    Are these sorts of issues always fairly or proportionately reported in the media? Perhaps not, but that does not mean that people are making things up or merely expressing “opinions”. The internet is a potential source of danger to children, just like lots of other things are. What we need to do is reach out to the children who are using the internet and show them how to use it safely, just like we show them how to cross the road safely. At the same time we expect the industry and other players to do its bit at a technical level to make the internet as safe it can be.

  3. Workshop Feedback says:

    In many areas, knowledge is already a commodity – wikipedia is one obvious example. If this trend increases, then where is the power? One could ask whether access to information really does empower the individual. I would say only if the recipient knows what to do with it. In the future we will move increasingly to wanting ‘data we choose’ to receive rather than just access to hard data. This could lead to a narrowing of opinions too early but clearly the recombination of the data received will lead to increased influence

  4. Wortkshop Feedback says:

    Going forward citizens need to be in more control of their data and their identity.

  5. Wortkshop Feedback says:

    There is a big question over the business models that will be able to work in the world of ubiquitous cheap data. How will the infrastructure actually be financed over the next decade? And will people be willing to pay? We are increasingly accustomed to free access to free information and so shifting back to a pay to access approach will be no easy move – particularly for the younger generation. Should access to information be monetised, and if so, by who?

  6. Wortkshop Feedback says:

    The semantic web will play a significant role in helping to align the key combinations of data we need to gain really useful information. Over the next ten years semantic search engines will shift the intelligence behind search to a far higher level. The challenge will be in making the search engines more intuitive.

  7. Wortkshop Feedback says:

    We need to have trust in the medium as well as the data. We need to recognise the difference between fact and opinion – and so be able to see the credible from the incredible. The credibility of information is based on the profile of the person offering it and going forward this will become more significant. In addition, we need to be cognizant of the drivers of trust such as governance, stewardship and openness.

  8. Wortkshop Feedback says:

    At the moment, efficient markets of data do not yet exist for the mass population so few really benefit. As demand for data continues to rise, physical infrastructures beyond the core technology will struggle to keep pace. There are also huge issues with legacy infrastructures.

  9. Wortkshop Feedback says:

    Opinion is of little value until you can authenticate it – so the challenge will be to identify credible (authentic) information. The definition of what is credible may have to change – in the future credibility may be delivered through a ranking system based on trust.

  10. Wortkshop Feedback says:

    Of course the biggest challenge is simply to manage the huge amount of data out there.

  11. Workshop Feedback says:

    We already have too much data and this prevents us making decisions. Too much reliance on data to guide our views has meant that we have lost intuition. Going forward we need to rise above the mass of data so that once again we can make more focused decisions.

  12. Workshop Feedback says:

    For many of us, decisions are emotionally driven, not data driven. Data is there to provide context and allow us to make informed judgements. If we are to be loaded with more data in the future it will lead to slower judgement without depth of rigour. With too much data to process, we are increasingly being shallow and broad in our views rather than deep and narrow. We therefore need to go for more gut feel and maybe less thoughtful than in the past?

  13. Workshop Feedback says:

    The concern about too many false, made-up face-book profiles etc will not be a barrier to companies wishing to better target their products and services. It will not matter that we, as marketers, don’t know the real person, we will know more about people’s dreams. This is very good for consumer insight as we can often align products and services better with people’s dreams than with what they say in focus groups. If the future is about more alternative identities, we will be able to tap into these.

  14. Workshop Feedback says:

    Businesses already have too much data to handle. Going forward our biggest challenge will be in providing context for the information so that we can gain real insight.

  15. Workshop Feedback says:

    Who can we really trust to find information when Google’s business model is really all about advertising? We need an alternative source of data focused on providing us with only the most relevant information.

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