THE BLOG
02/07/2018 12:03 SAST | Updated 02/07/2018 12:03 SAST

Data Is Fast Becoming The New Global Power

'Those able to commoditise, package and resell data will have significant control over the resources and, with that, control power.'

PeopleImages / Getty Images

OPINION

The New King of Democracy: Data

For a long while, people have been controlled by the owners of the means of production, be it in agriculture, education, science, business or telecommunications. Everyone has had a boss.

Whether you and I have been controlled by the owners of land or preoccupied with armed conflicts revolving around land... Whether we're concerned by the influence and power of those who own national and international patents for machines or innovations that shift power from landowners to machine owners or inventors... Whether we feared the owners of capital for running our lives, for creating institutions that ravage nations and create a massive imbalance in the distribution of wealth... The bottom line is, capital has changed in its form.

The recent technological advancements that we see and use are giving us a power shift

By now, with most people in the country and continent having access to a telecommunications device/tool, we need to acknowledge the reality that power has a changing face.

I recently attended a conference by the Responsible Business Forum on Africa where the bright young minds of Africa gathered to deliberate on issues of common public concern. Listening to the great inspirational speakers from across the African continent talking about almost everything from sustainable development goals to artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and the future of tech, one felt that Africa is finally getting light.

Most organisations are now looking at data collection as a tool to improve effectiveness and do more from less, while others, especially those whose core mandate is built on such data, as well as various governments such as Kenya, Morocco and Rwanda, are ahead of the curve and realising that power today resides in data. These organisations and governments have noticed and acknowledged that those able to commoditise, package and resell data will have significant control over the resources — and with that, will control power.

The reality is, the data we have about ourselves in our respective spaces can bring us down in a minute.

Time has changed and data is the new oil: The King

Today our capital is nothing compared with whoever owns data on humans, on the planet or on the world. The person (company or organisation) who owns information about us — our land, our machines, our capital — controls us; indirectly so. Data has become the new global power. With our data easy to analyse through the use of algorithms and AI, it's possible to draw our profiles and everything about our personalities and economic value.

Monetising Movement: Data collection — Commoditise it — Sell it

We're now learning that data has become the new power. It works in fascinating ways. For example, someone (your spouse, sibling or offspring) takes your data from you under the pretext of safekeeping or free storage or giving you a "better user experience". But once that person has enough of it, he or she can use it to analyse you and then put a price on that analysis to profit by selling it on. If you want it back, well, you have to buy it!

The reality is, the data we have about ourselves in our respective spaces can bring us down in a minute.

Today, in the world of ML and AI, there are several layers of capital flow. There are economies capitalising on the ability to bring together like-minded people who have been matched by algorithms and AI is the new language.

It is now the engine of capital, the ability for different owners of data to use it to create a power that can generate infinite capital. All the global corporations (Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, all the way to airport and border controls and Cambridge Analytica) and even the new controls used to keep some undesirable governments in check, are based on data, not capital or machines or land.

If things go well, Africans within the African continent will soon be using a single data platform for connectivity across the continent.

Imagine one million doctors working on one single idea using algorithms, AI and ML

What about 100-million engineers working on analysed data to build something together? Or not so good, imagine politicians with the perfect knowledge and ability to understand every emotional, physical and social aspect of voters? Imagine they can manipulate that to control us and decide what we buy and how and for whom we vote. Well, for the big majority among us, some online platforms have taught us not to imagine these anymore, because it's already happening.

If things go well, Africans within the African continent will soon be using a single data platform for connectivity across the continent. No more multiple sim cards for every country you travel to and no more international roaming when you cross borders, because we're together working on a new information and communications technology spectrum.

Thus, as we continue making strides for human advancement, let it be known that the future of power has now become data.

To the stubborn people, the question is which battle you are stuck fighting: are you fighting for land? Machines? Capital? Or are you in the age of information power, data power?

Koketso Marishane is the NDP 2030 South African Youth Ambassador and writes as an active citizen.