Big Data is rewriting our cultural and political history | Frank Field

Over the past 20 years, we have seen an explosion of data driven digital technologies (CDDs). We are all familiar with Facebook, but it is only the tip of the iceberg in a tsunami…

Big Data is rewriting our cultural and political history | Frank Field

Over the past 20 years, we have seen an explosion of data driven digital technologies (CDDs). We are all familiar with Facebook, but it is only the tip of the iceberg in a tsunami of new technologies.

Wary of going “up the tubes” in the late 1980s, Big Data has exploded across the globe, doubling its size every 18 months. Together with AI, ML and VR, CDDs will make our business and services greener, create healthier, more intuitive and resilient environments, create new health care models, and open doors to opportunities for connecting with new audiences.

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You could say I am a pioneer in the field. While most politicians talk about ID cards or DNA data, I am working to harness the immense data power of these new CDDs to “train” people’s brains. Data is already being used to educate and enlighten children, to help older people stay healthier and to help people learn and solve problems in new ways.

I believe there is a “cognitive revolution” taking place and that in the first five years of its life, this new data science will deliver huge commercial value to billions of people and billions of businesses. It will lead to new products, services and ways of doing business, will change the way our societies and industries work and will transform the future of entire economies.

In 2016 I co-founded the Coalition for the Future of Privacy, an independent umbrella group of groups who understand the value and power of Big Data and the dangers posed by its uncontrolled proliferation. We believe technology can play a key role in delivering sustainable growth while protecting our privacy rights and critical civil liberties.

This growing data avalanche will make our business and services greener, create healthier, more intuitive and resilient environments

The coalition is committed to the implementation of a responsible, interoperable, data-powered economy powered by the freedoms and rights of citizens, so that we can share the rewards and minimize the risks. We believe the big digital companies – particularly Google, Facebook and Twitter – are monetising our personal data by making it easier to target their products.

The explosion of data is taking place at an unprecedented scale and pace. Only Big Data and artificial intelligence can provide answers to the questions that the masses are asking – how do I keep moving forward safely with my life, what will I eat, what treatments will I receive and what can I do to protect my health?

But technology alone can’t solve complex questions. Organisations have to make the data-driven decisions that will help people make the right choices and steer the right way out of trouble. They also need to explore ways of harnessing the power of data to tackle the many security challenges such as malicious hacking, corporate data breaches and the spread of misinformation.

Delegates at the Open Data UK Summit in March. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Governing bodies and democratic institutions need to realise that data is essential to ensuring security of information and protect civil liberties. They need to work with intelligence services to ensure the protection of key rights and freedoms underpinned by the Aarhus Convention. If Big Data is going to play a key role in the future of the economy, then policymakers must get it right by consulting widely on data, ensuring transparency, industry self-regulation and accountability and creating a legal framework to provide the necessary oversight to allow people to hold data providers accountable.

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We must begin this journey now. Data will only continue to expand in coming years. We must design our public policies around this reality so that they are business-driven, practical and, where necessary, enable the public sector to shift from a reactive to proactive role.

We must do what we promised when we won power in May last year: “We will drive the digital revolution and ensure its benefits are felt in every community”. Follow these lessons through and you can lead a data-powered economy.

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