Data and the Artificial Intelligence Gold Rush: Who Will Win?

There are no boundaries for profiteering or privacy intrusion in today’s data governance models.
There are no boundaries for profiteering or privacy intrusion in today’s data governance models.

By Ozzeir Khan

The exponential growth of data and artificial intelligence is creating a tug-of-war between data for profit and data for the common good. In this struggle, it is fundamental that we protect our basic human data rights.

 Artificial intelligence will someday know you better than you know yourself. That day may be sooner than we realize with the amount of data collected on all humans and their environments increasing exponentially. So where are the rules, and what are our rights?

Over the past few centuries, data has been collected at high levels: primarily on companies, countries, societies, cultures, religions and other high-level aggregations. With the data age in full swing, we are delving into the frontier of individual data—a level previously unreached in terms of deeply knowing and connecting humans.

The incremental evolution of our legal, commercial, political, medical, educational, physical and social systems is based on human data gathering and processing. My instinct tells me these systems are about to change.

Two governance models are emerging today in this gold rush. The first one is the data for profit model, which we see with Google, Facebook and similar companies. The second one is state-led, which we see in some countries. Both of these models have no boundaries for profiteering or privacy intrusion.

Three major change elements are arriving:

  1. Human data availability. Personal data from our online life and offline life is now available, whether from our own clicking or tapping, or just through the internet of things. Soon It will not just be the device you are carrying that takes your data but low hanging orbital satellites will collect data as we live our lives. 
  2. Speed of interpretation and reaction on data.  The amount of data collected is so enormous that AI and quantum computing capacities are being developed to interpret the data. The investment in quantum computing by 2030 will be in the billions of dollars just between a few countries. Humans simply cannot read this data and make sense of it. 
  3. A governance model for global human data rights is evolving fast. The tendency at the start of anything new is that we either try to exploit it for profit or we try to protect the current state—and not progress.

These elements will go through the current global practices of capitalism and socialism for basic human rights for data governance. Fundamentally, the meaning of “data for good” must be defined to ensure basic human data rights.

Development opportunities are plentiful in this age of data. The more we all know each other and the environment, the better governments can function and provide services to their citizens. For example, citizens providing their medical data for research. Also, the commercial sector can provide goods and services that are more tailored to individual needs. This could be an airline or a restaurant providing more custom offerings.

Artificial intelligence will someday know you better than you know yourself.

With more data, we know more about each other and can understand each other’s perspective better and lessen conflicts. We all know that the first step of any mediation is knowing each other’s perspectives. Medical and health services will progress and enable us to live healthier and longer. For example, if a person has a stroke, an emergency team would arrive. 

These and many other benefits will improve the development index of many countries.

Of course, new opportunities come with risks, which we must review and mitigate in the near future.  The major risks include data exploited for profit. Extreme profitability in the hands of the few who own the data. Government bias in provisioning laws and services is also a concern. Equality and fairness factors could easily be compromised. And with the great digital data divide there could be a new meaning to the phrase “in the know.” Companies who know you and have your data can serve you but those who don’t can’t.

Currently we have no global mediation or monitoring body. It is clear, however, that we need rules of the game. The world needs to come together around data as it has around climate change, space, labor, and other similar topics. It is relatively easy to get consensus and opinions aligned at a country or single cultural level. But on a global level, our basic human data rights will take time to evolve. The key is to take the first step. 

At the 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos, citizen privacy concerns and policies regarding data protection were on the agenda. The problem statement is becoming increasingly clear at an international level. The solutions, however, are not rising because of the proximity of data with technology and innovation. This is a similar situation with labor laws and freedom to work.

 Fundamental human data rights need to be agreed upon and monitored between nations on the principles of fairness, equality and freedom. Every day, we hear about some redline being crossed from commercial profiteering to influencing political outcomes. We must make progress on creating a platform for global deliberation, developing legal frameworks for protection, and putting in place agreements on monitoring. 

This is a crisis in the making. We are just beginning to feel the consequences of this gold rush. The question is: are we going to proactively address this or wait for the chaos?