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The human side of the data revolution

Thornton May | April 18, 2017
We the people are the source of most of the massive data accumulation now taking place.

Marc Andreessen, venture capitalist and much-heeded voice for all things tech, compresses the consensus that it is generally not practical to withdraw completely from all online activity into four words: “We have no choice.” Individuals have to be online. And when they go online, they generate data. Do they know how to manage and protect that data? Do they know the options available to them for becoming protected? 

I envision that at some time in the not so distant future a federal agency will emerge — akin to Health and Human Services — devoted to protecting citizen data. Responsibility for data protection — what there is of it — is now fragmented across several federal agencies. Perhaps the new Citizen Data Protection Agency will resemble Homeland Security — a throwing together of various parts of the federal bureaucracy. 

 

When (and for whom) will the benefits materialize?

In the early days of the data revolution, most of the commentary was very positive, focusing on how data would make the world better: how smart cars would materially reduce the number of traffic fatalities (17,775 in 2016, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), how smart investing would increase rates of return, how smart medicine would customize treatment plans, how smart education would personalize lesson plans for each student, how smart shopping would create memorable customer experiences, etc. 

Currently the pendulum of public opinion appears to be swinging in the direction of concern. This may be because the promised benefits of data exchange (I give you data, you delight me with services or products specifically designed for me) and the futuristic visions of a better world have failed to materialize.  

Data is everywhere, both in the foreground (smartphones, tablets, wearables) and in the background (road traffic management, financial systems). I agree with those who believe that human-data interaction is important enough to become a discipline unto itself. 

In your organization, who is thinking hard about the collection, analysis and actions associated with the human side of the data revolution?

 

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