I’ve spent nearly two decades exploring techniques for infusing software with human understanding, attempting to build technology that is more personalized, contextualized, and better able to anticipate and address the needs of the User. When I started this work back in 2001, it was a world before social media and smart phones that generate huge volumes of personal data. It was a world before the Cloud, where personal data is spread across the globe and into the hands of corporations and governments, frequently without a Users knowledge or at least without their understanding. It was a world before bigdata infrastructure that allows analytics to be executed on vast quantities of data to generate highly personal insights about the individual, insights which are being buried into the fabric of the global digital ecosystem. When we built our first recommendation system in 2006, the personal data universe was the information residing on an individual’s computer. The User chose to install the application and it only ingested the data under their control; data that resided on their computer, such as files, email, and calendar entries. While this smaller dataset limited the insights that we could generate it didn’t present the same scale of privacy challenges that we face today.
Today’s mass generation and collection of personal data, the analysis of that data, and the application of that analysis for a wide variety of purposes, from business to governmental, security, retail, societal, medical, etc., is presenting us with great opportunities, but also great challenges. When discussing this topic, the conversation tends to be highly emotive with corporations and governments on one side, and consumer, privacy and human rights advocates on the other. It also tends to involve participants that speak completely different languages and therefore struggle to understand each other. You’ve data scientists talking about neural networks, lawyers about regulation, companies about economics, governments about security, and consumers about value.
Our world is evolving and evolution is not something that can be stopped. We are now entering the Cognitive Era, where data and analytics will become embedded into the fabric of our lives. All we can do it try to shape this world as it evolves. To that end, I’m going to write a series of blog posts over the coming weeks that talks about Personal Data and shares my personal perspective, attempting to answer questions like…
- What it personal data.
- How is it being used.
- Why is it so important, and so valuable.
- What are the risks, and the opportunities.
- Why is privacy important, but ethics even more so.
- Why personal data is the fuel for the cognitive era.
- Why more personal data collection is not a bad thing, IF the appropriate controls are in place.
- Why the conversation needs to evolve from privacy to ethics, and from data protection to data ownership.
- Why personal data is a currency that we need to ensure is evenly and fairly distributed; we don’t want a generation of data haves and have nots.
- Why the future of personal data is a key question for society, something we should all care about.