The Battle For Data In An IoT World

We’re in the midst of what the World Economic Forum call the 4th Industrial Revolution, and this is characterized by the blurring of boundaries between the physical and digital.  The Internet of Things means that everything from railway tracks to refrigerators are capable of generating data to help us make more effective use of them.

Indeed, Gartner predict that around 25 billion things will be connected to the Internet by 2020, with those items collectively generating around 600 zettabytes (ZB) per year.  To put that into perspective, that is roughly 275 times more than the traffic flowing from data centers to end users, and 39 times higher than all traffic to and from data centers.  In other words, it’s a lot.

In God we trust

W. Edwards Deming famously remarked that “in God we trust; all others bring data,” and it seemed like a perfectly adroit comment to make a generation ago because data was in short supply.  Now however, data is in abundance, and we might amend Deming’s quote to reference the importance of insight.  When you can see vividly each individual stalk of hay, the value comes in being able to see the needle among them.

A number of companies are attempting to make such insights vivid and visual.  For instance, I wrote last year about Beautiful Information, the Nesta backed startup who have developed an Operational Control Centre app that aims to present data in a more accessible way.

The app aims to transform previously unmanageable data into usable information by displaying it in a visual and real-time way to both managers and clinicians. The app comes with a customizable dashboard so teams and organizations can gain access to the exact data they desire, whether that’s patient waiting time or the throughput of a particular department.

The value of data

As we’ve become more adept at deriving insight from data, the value of it has sky rocketed.  Not for nothing is data regarded as the new oil, as the big four tech companies (Google, Facebook, Amazon and NetFlix) have collected so much data on users that the digital understanding this has given them about our wants and desires, behaviors and beliefs has proved hugely attractive to retailers and advertisers alike.

Advocates of blockchain technology believe that it can be used to return data to the people, and allow those who generate it to monetize it rather than intermediaries.  Given the nascent nature of blockchain as a technology, such marketplaces don’t exist yet, but one company that’s attempting to build one is Swiss startup Streamr.

They’re working on a real-time marketplace for data streaming from a whole range of sources, including IoT sensors and autonomous cars.

The platform is based on the Ethereum blockchain, and uses smart contracts to ensure that data is tradable in a secure manner that retains the privacy of users.  What’s more, the company believe they make such exchanges of value speedy.

They recently joined the Trusted IoT Alliance, an open source software consortium that aims to develop a safe and secure IoT ecosystem.  The Alliance was developed by industrial heavyweights, such as Bosch and Cisco.

“The exponential growth of IoT and the ubiquity of connected devices brings unparalleled value to data, fully transforming the service sector, the supply chain and in turn the modern economy. Yet the rapid nature of that technological evolution has come at the cost of our security and freedom, a cost that has not gone unnoticed by industry leaders,” Streamr say.

Suffice to say, they’re at an incredibly early stage at the moment, so their network is little more than a proof of concept.  With the value in any network rising exponentially as membership grows, they must hope that people, and therefore their data, begin signing up in the near future.

Check out the video below to learn more about what they’re trying to do.

The availability, and use, of data is arguably the biggest trend of our time.  Who gets to benefit, and how that benefit is monetized, seems set to be the defining battle of the 4th industrial revolution.  The FANG four have secured unprecedented power and wealth through unbridled access to our data, but we are set to generate to dwarf even this in the coming years.  Will we begin to regain control over this?  Time will tell.

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