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20th Jan 2018

Focus

Big Data poses questions about human role in society

  • According to the Paris-based OECD, the market for public sector data alone used by companies in 2008 was €97 billion (Photo: Bob Mical)

Big Data is expected to enable machines to take over some tasks once performed by people, posing larger questions about the role of humans in future societies.

Some, like Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, even say computers will take over humans and turn us into their “pets”.

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  • Taxis services are challenged by car ride services like Uber (Photo: Moyan Brenn)

In a recent interview with Australia’s Financial Review, Wozniak described the future as “scary” and one where devices could end up running companies more efficiently than humans.

But the vice-president of one the world’s largest software firms on Wednesday (25 March) told this website he doesn’t share Wozniak’s views.

“I don’t share the Apple perspectives, I think we are far far away from many systems that have to be developed,” said Matt Wolken, vice-president and general manager at Dell’s software information management group.

Wolken had earlier said he is seeing “more and more capabilities around deep learning, around machine learning, around genetic algorithms” and noted that such systems will be able to learn by analysing data points.

But he dismissed fears raised by Wozniak and others on how Big Data - the mass gathering and analysing of data - is underpinning rapid changes in terms of automation and artificial intelligence and their possible negative effects on society.

“There are means and systems being created to help understand and think more like a human but how many of you are going to take over and kill me? None of you are, right?” he said at the Second Annual European Data Economy Conference in Brussels.

One CEO of a small tech company called Real Impact Analytics painted a different picture of Wozniak’s warning.

He too dismissed Wozniak’s bleak future but said another scenario is emerging “that is just as horrible”.

“Automation is going to take over a whole set of jobs that have existed for a long time,” said Sebastien Deletaille at Real Impact Analytics.

He said such loses are likely to trigger political movements.

“We are going to potentially get into a world where automation is going to be so successful that a few companies are going to get all of the profits. We are at the edge of reinvention,” he added.

Data collection and analysis is a big business and is rapidly growing.

According to the Paris-based OECD, the market for public sector data alone used by companies in 2008 was €97 billion.

The OECD says jobs are likely to be lost through a process known as “creative destruction” and that society will need to learn how to adapt to the technological changes.

Uber, the low cost car sharing service, is one such example where technology seeks to replace the utility of standard taxis through the process of creative destruction.

Geo-location devices like TomTom are replacing standard roadmaps. The company has 9 trillion data points on traffic and is adding 6 billion points more every day.

Christian Reimsbach-Kounatze, the OECD’s internet economist, said the question is how capable society will be able to adapt to the change.

“Those that adapt relatively quickly are obviously the ones that benefit the first,” he said.

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