Are We Future Ready-III?

Pallavi Mody

Author: Pallavi Mody

Date: Wed, 2016-09-21 13:53

This blog is the third in the series based on the book The Industries of the Future by Alec Ross. This blog shares thoughts on Big Data. 

If “land was the raw material of the agricultural age, iron was the raw material of the industrial age, data is the raw material of the information age. The economic power which shifted from landowners to factory owners would shift now to those who own or handle data.”

-- Alec Ross

The Internet has become an ocean of jumbled, chaotic information. Big Data and analytics shows a way to connect this information and draw actionable business intelligence from it.

Big Data is largely known as a tool for targeted advertising, to which all of us have a first-hand experience. When I typed in Google Goa, someone up there (Big Data) knew that there is a potential tourist for Goa. Almost immediately, I was bombarded with information for flights, hotels, restaurants, taxi services and places of interest. The entire paraphernalia of Goa tourism was at my fingertips in seconds. I was happy that I could plan my trip with all possible information. There were reviews of the travelers that helped me decide what to do, where to stay, which room to choose, which restaurant to visit and what to eat! From the jungle of information on travel all over the world, the relevant information for Goa was sifted and made available to me with colourful images, movies and music. Honestly, I have started enjoying my travel twice; once virtually, while planning and then when really in Goa. Isn’t this creating a win-win for both -- the Goa tourism industry and me?

But this is not all. Big data is transitioning from a tool primarily for targeted advertising to an instrument with profound applications for diverse corporate sectors. Big Data or analytics is intimate and expansive, personalised and comprehensive - often compared to the microscope and the telescope. This leads to a large number of solutions and applications.

Consider one application in the form of Universal Machine Translation. It would make language barriers a thing of the past; a device in the ear would make it possible to have real time translation. This would enable conversations with people of different languages.  Global business implications of this innovation could be immense and inclusive as this would help globalisation even for small businesses and individuals. 

Consider another application in the form of Precision Agriculture. The Green Revolution, that intensified the use of fertilizers and pesticides, helped to improve farm productivity and food supply. Farm productivity levels are stagnating due to diminishing returns. The concern over environment due to excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides also has become real. Precision Agriculture provides an alternative in the form of determining the right quantity and quality of input requirement on the basis of sensors from soil.

Instead of blanketing a field with a fixed amount of fertilizer, pesticide and herbicide as is the case now, new data will determine just the right amount of water and fertilizer to use. Precision Agriculture holds the promise of growing more food while polluting less, all with the help of Big Data. Monsanto, DuPont and John Deere are already making an early investment to have the first mover advantage.

What is making me a little nervous and uncomfortable is the feeling that somebody out there is constantly watching me. Let me give an example. When I have written somewhere in the mail about an attachment and if I forget to attach a file, the system pops up a simple message: You forgot to attach the file. When this happened for the first time, I was caught unaware and felt that someone was reading my mail. Now I like it as it takes care of my omission.

But the feeling that someone is tracking your Google searches, Linked-in posts, Facebook posts and WhatsApp posts remains. Is it because we are used to the privacy and we are now moving on to a more open and transparent world? As a child, when I visited my grandma’s village, I was amused as everyone knew everything about everyone. We in cities lived a much more guarded private life. Are we moving to a transparent global village with Big Data where our lives and thoughts are open? With Data permanence, are we ready to accept that everyone is going to know if not remember everything about us?


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Dear Ma’am, I enjoyed reading the article because this is exactly what happens to me. I liked the satire that you included in the article in the end. Recently I heard about big data being used in healthcare industry. A large number of medical devices are there which are big data oriented. It is possible for the doctor to prescribe the medicines without even visiting the patient by knowing the heartbeat and temperature through the heart and temperature monitoring watch fitted on the patient’s hand that stays in a remote place. This is the power of big data. I agree that we are in the 4th Industrial revolution age which is all about big data. With the huge amounts of data available from various digital sources the companies are tapping the dark data that was considered useless all these years, to drive their business. It has wise applications in almost all sectors be it medicine, healthcare, finance, manufacturing, transportation, agriculture. Big data is definitely here to make our life easier. That being said, big data is also causing serious concerns in the consumers about what is happening with the vast amounts of data collected about them. The frequency of privacy breaches have also been on the rise and it has never been more important for the companies to maintain the balance between profit and privacy. The big question now is that, how will businesses will respect privacy concerns while still permitting the use of big data to drive business value? This is something I guess only time will tell.

Thank you. We are passing through an unprecedented time where many new things are happening. You are right, only time will tell!

I like the first paragraph, and agree to growth of all industry like agriculture, minerals, IT & Big data industry. As per my understanding anything access is harmful for society. Here we are finding excessive growth of IT & big data which is leading to disruption of multiple traditional values which is useful for life. Like multiple manual activity which is automated, writing converted in to typing, online shopping, Driving, automated multiple home & kitchen appliances & getting information without any effort. This is good at one side if you analyse another side, you will observe major impact on human life as we are far away from reality. We are dependent of packaged food providers quality, negative impact of mobile signal quality, WiFi signal everywhere etc. Everyone so-called connected in this world is tracked by anyone. Here, all rule break’s, every time someone is watching you, analysing your behaviour & selling it in market to offer you which you are completely unaware off. Sometime market data inform you about your like & dislike. More than this now scientists are mapping human brain with help of big data to make robot to act in place of human. There were scary results observe during test & concern raised by top scientists on such development. I think we need to sensible to use devices, data & information. Somewhere we need to control all these in our day in day out of lives. Otherwise, coming generation will be far away from reality. Will have two types of people right user of big data or wrong user of big data. And it will have major impact & going to take generations to recover.

Ma’am, I enjoyed reading your 3-part blog post series. It is very informative and intriguing. The way you took key ideas from the book and explained with contemplary and relatable implications is appreciable. As someone who is lazy to read books, this blog post makes me eager to read the book 'The Industries of the Future' by Alec Ross. In the first blog post, you wrote about how the companies are investing and creating technologies that replace human. In this context, I would like to point that there is constant shift in highly demanded skills in the labour market since Industrial revolution. After the invention of steam engines, rail transports which allowed people to move quickly from one place to the other, aided then industrialized nations to colonize new found territories. This increased the demand for surveyors and Civil engineers in 19th century for building roads, building and bridges. During the start of 20th centuries, with increasing number of industries like heavy machineries, automobiles, ships buildings, aircrafts, etc. labour skilled in mechanical engineering were in highest demand. With increased need for communications in World war 2 and post that, labour skilled in electrical and electronics engineering were in the highest demand. With advent of computers by end of 20th century and even still now, labour skilled in software engineering are in high demand. Throughout these ages people who with irrespective of the hard skills, soft skills like communication and people management skills were constantly maintained high demand. With advent of Artificial Intelligence, even demand for labour with high soft skills will be also affected. Two observations can be made from this. One is the skills highly demanded in the labour market constantly keeps changing as the technology improves. Second is the given the increasing rate of change of technology, the rate of shift in skills demanded in the labour market increased towards the 21st century. In the second blog post, you mentioned about cyber security skills will be much demanded in the labour market. With WannaCry ransomware attack which infected 230,000 computers in over 150 countries, the need for increased security for computer networks and digital payment systems is a must. With increasing use of IoT technologies and advent of Industry 4.0, cyber security will be one of the much needed skill in the industry In this final blog post of the series, you mentioned about how data is the raw material for the information technology companies which extract and sell information from the collected data. Lot of companies compete to collect data on their customers. Like Mukesh Ambani of Reliance said data is the new oil. It is important and is on the moral and legal responsibilities of the companies to handle these data safely and securely. I would like to thank you for such a wonderful blog post series. Looking forward from you for more fascinating posts.

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