In Review – Data is the New Oil: The Journey from Privacy to Publicy

Change the instruments, and you will change the entire social theory that goes with them. ~ Bruno Latour, 2009

Besides ghosts and the government, data is ubiquitous. Consider the abundance of data we interact with on a daily basis (i.e., talking to Siri, logging on Facebook, Tweets, etc.). It’s undeniable, data is a commodity. From monitoring spend to formulating metrics on production of goods, data is necessary for our economic livelihood and growth. I wouldn’t be surprised if a verbal morality standard were implemented in the future! With every passing moment, It grows exponentially and there are probably more data sets in your life than you actually know about. Recently, I attended the Swissnex San Francisco talk, Data as the New Oil: The Journey from Privacy to Publicy, the speakers for the evening included futurists,

Each had compelling arguments for their particular stances, which varied from opacity with one’s information to complete transparency in the virtual world. Whether you consider yourself being highly active online or have very little virtual presence, the discussion around this topic is imperative.

Gerd Leonhard (@gleonhard) started the evening’s presentations. Leonhard discusses various types of data we use such as volunteered data (i.e., online purchase) to access and use for business purposes. From studying abroad to logging our whereabouts, we suffer from what Leonhard stated as ‘control-loss’. One of the more striking inquiries he ponders is which company will be the next BP ExxonMobil disaster but in regard to data security? The media report on security breaches and leaks from time to time but do you believe a devastating data leak with significant environmental, cultural, and societal effects could actually happen? The question is definitely worth exploring. A futuristic Space Odyssey-Hal 9000 moment entailed Leonhard reminding us of artificial intelligence and its capacity to become robust and dynamic. For example, the iPhone 4S technology, Siri, gets better everyday. The more data we give it, the more robust and intelligent it becomes. Artificial intelligence doesn’t suffer from unpredictable human emotions or experiences nostalgia (unless, maybe, if we’re talking about Data, cyborg from Star Trek). Rather, it takes our information and creates value based on the content. Lastly, one important aspect of data production and consumption is how we, collectively, keep what Leonhard believes is “the ethos of the commons”. In the desire to be open, there’s a lot of risk and vulnerability attached to that type of transparency. Even though good data creates good content, the opposite is just as true.

Co-founder of openthefuture.com and futurist, Jamais Cascio (@cascio), was passionate about his stance of opacity or asymmetric transparency when dealing with data in the virtual realm. Out of the four presenters, his thoughts on the future of data incorporated more radical ideas such as the aforementioned asymmetric transparency (versus symmetric data transparency). Essentially, incorporating a level of opacity when inputting data into a system or database. He argues ‘Opacity’ has value and poses the question, “Do you tell Facebook your actual location?”. For most us, the answer is probably no but then again, we all indulge in omitting our locations for the sake of privacy. Cascio believes lying to the Internet, versus giving up your power to it, is a necessary practice in order to sustain one’s privacy. He compares and contrasts the difference between a natural resource such as oil versus a resource like data. Oil will run out due to its limited supply but this isn’t the case with data. Currently, Cascio estimates around 800 billion gigabytes and by the year 2020, there will probably be around 35 zettabytes (increasing data 45 times over!). With a resource that abundant and seemingly infinite, how can we possibly keep our identities and information in a regulated and structured way? This is a tremendous task, which is why Cascio’s notion of ‘Opacity’ is not too far-fetched.

Stowe Boyd (@stoweboyd) looks at social media and networks. His primary interest is how we interact with one another. Although some of the ideas Boyd asserts are not necessarily new, such as his perspective on advertising, which is derived from an amalgamation of data. Data fuels our desires for things we may not really need to are led to believe we want! Yet, Boyd presents this familiar thinking by drawing on connections with actual physical research not often discussed on a highly public forum such as genetic profiling. Although we have little control over the way our data is used, Boyd suggests knowing how we interact within a societal context, not only virtually but, within physical space. Collectively, we have the capacity to take data and use it as a valuable and meaningful resource that actually helps drive innovation and change. As Boyd stated during his talk, “We are living in this liquid media where things are less solid”. Even television is being affected by our social interactions and the way we access our lives online. He also stated augmented reality as the next big thing and how we can prepare ourselves for this new technology. Lastly, he eloquently put, social networking and media is part of the “exhaust of our social interactions” that circles back to the knowing ourselves within physical spaces.

Stanford Lecturer and Professor, Andreas Weigend, (@aweigend) has spent the last 8 years looking at social data. He defines social data as the information we create and share. For the most part, Weigend was the only presenter who asked the audience questions about what has and has not changed in the past decade. The emergence of virtual spaces like Facebook and Amazon, revolutionize the way we interact to the way we consume But what happens when an insurance company and an individual become friends on the social network? Or, the methods used by big pharma that allows for use of collective intelligence. Even data about the ebb and flow of traffic in your area allows for many possibilities. Another aspect of social data is music. When was the last time you bought music from a physical location? Based on the question and answers from the audience, the transportation and agricultural industries haven’t changed too terribly much. Probably the most significant change is in education system. From open source culture to readily available educational resources such as Kahn Academy, the way we learn and the methods used to teach future generations changes all the time. It’s amazing that my teenage niece probably has multiple online accounts for a variety of sites (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Tumlbr, gMail, etc.). Weigend suggests, “data is only really valuable when we factor in the decisions data affects” and vast information used to figure credit scores to compatibility with someone are all things to consider.

After that evening, I thought of the bind new media artists must deal with and how our data driven world will have coding and programming being studied and mandatory among future generations. How does the hactivist and open source culture of today amongst artists, designers, and theorists shape what arts and technology will look like 10 or 20 years from now? Tell ZERO1 what you think and join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

Read Data as the New Oil Speaker Bios on the Swissnex site here

Image Source: Swissnex 

Originally posted to ZERO1 Blog, please click here to view

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Author: Dorothy R. Santos

Dorothy R. Santos (b. 1978) is a Filipina-American writer, editor, curator, and educator whose research interests include new media and digital art, activism, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology. Born and raised in San Francisco, California, she holds Bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and Psychology from the University of San Francisco, and received her Master’s degree in Visual and Critical Studies at the California College of the Arts. She serves as one of the editors-in-chief for Hyphen magazine. Her work appears in art21, Art Practical, Daily Serving, Rhizome, Hyperallergic, and SF MOMA's Open Space. She has lectured at the De Young museum, Stanford University, School of Visual Arts, and more. Her essay “Materiality to Machines: Manufacturing the Organic and Hypotheses for Future Imaginings,” was published in The Routledge Companion to Biology in Art and Architecture (2016). She is currently a Yerba Buena Center for the Arts fellow researching the concept of citizenship. She also serves as executive staff for the Bay Area Society for Art & Activism and board member for the SOMArts Cultural Center.

6 thoughts on “In Review – Data is the New Oil: The Journey from Privacy to Publicy”

  1. After Eric Slatkin’s I’ll be going over this one; although it will take greather thought on my part, as what ideas evolve today have roots in yesterday’s thinking.

    I’ll just have to get into it tomorrow, sans Twitter and Facebook (although I do have formal lessons on the two forthcoming.)

    Until tomorrow…

  2. Well, I’m only beginning to study the various and increasing social networks sites. I’ve signed up with all of them but not yet ready how to use or benefit from them, esp. Twitter, Facebook, etc. But it’s coming.

    (I’m wondering if one of Dali’s paintings hinted at any off that.)

    (I’m also wondering what ramifications all this increasing data sludge has on the military powers that be.)

    Anyway.I’d like to think everything is moving towards what Donald Fegan invisioned in his song IGY, International Geographic Year

    “A just machine to make big decisions
    Programmed by fellows with compassion and vision
    We’ll be clean when their work is done
    We’ll be eternally free yes and eternally young
    What a beautiful world it would be, what a glorious time to be free…

    Only humanity can make this happen. Well, lets see…

    1. Many painters, such as Dali, certainly hinted at the future in their works. I know literature had its fair share of contributions to futuristic thinking and foresight (i.e., Mary Shelley, Philip K. Dick, George Orwell, etc.). Regarding military intelligence, they’re the first to utilize much of the technology that we see now. Nothing is every really new.

      Thank you for sharing Fegan’s song lyrics. If we don’t monitor and moderate our use of technology AND with intention (hopefully, and mostly, good intentions), we may suffer from a lot of useless excess that doesn’t help or educate.

      1. ooooo….that’s a long conversation. Best talked about in person. Maybe Sunday?

        In a nutshell, it’s about the possibility of equalizing society through exchange of data instead of paper/virtual currency.

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