The story of data, Part 5: Where are we going?
With AI and machine learning, algorithms and emerging tech, the sky -- beyond the cloud -- is the limit
So, what does the crystal ball say about the future of data?
Buckle up. No matter what happens, it’s going to be an interesting ride.
A study in contradictions
Just as we sit on a tinderbox of massive amounts of data surrounded by a maelstrom of emerging technology, we are also facing much stronger data privacy laws, led by the European Union’s (EU) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which is now in full force.
Europe is also expected to pass the ePrivacy Regulation this year, which is focused on the electronic side of handling data. And in the US, Vermont recently became the first US state to pass a law tightening the reins on personal data brokers, and California lawmakers have proposed a ballot initiative that would give consumers additional data subject rights.
But customers want more. The 2018 Internet Trends report from Kleiner Perkins analyst Mary Meeker identifies a “privacy paradox” where customers want their data protected but are willing to share personal information if they see a clear benefit.
We’ve talked about this dichotomy between data innovation and privacy protection throughout this series, but nowhere is it more apparent than when we ponder the future.
There are a lot of unknowns. But we can make some assumptions.
A need for better data
Data that’s incomplete or of poor quality isn’t worth much to anyone — and fails when it tries to live up to creating true value for customers.
Darian Shirazi, chief executive and founder of data software company Radius, says, “bad data is the bane of any marketer.”
“It causes marketing messages to be sent to the wrong people, messages to go undelivered, and entire go-to-market segments to become misclassified resulting in key target prospects not being included in critical campaigns,” Shirazi said. “Furthermore, with the volume of data swelling to mind-numbing new highs each year, poor data quality is costing organizations $15M annually on average in 2017, up from $9.6M in 2016 according to Gartner.”
Shirazi said there is no sign that this trend will reverse.
“Everyone knows data is a necessity for marketers in any organization,” Shirazi said. “It can improve revenue operations, inform better decisions on who to target, and help reach buyers in more meaningful ways. While more data means more opportunities across sectors, it also can mean more headaches.”
Bigger investments ahead
There’s going to be more spending on data, as well as the solutions that process it. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) Outlook for Data 2018 study revealed that 60 percent of marketers, publishers and tech developers stated that their organizations spent more on data in 2017 than 2016 — and an even greater majority (81 percent) plan to invest at higher levels in 2018. One-third of the respondents (32 percent) said that technology will play a vital role in leading their data initiatives this year, specifically AI and blockchain technology.
More AI, but with a human touch
The machines are getting smarter. We’ll continue to see an increase in data management solutions based on algorithms fueled by artificial intelligence and machine learning. But we’ll also see an increased need to have human oversight and consultation.
It’s no surprise that AI will continue to pick up steam with new ways to use this emerging technology. Still, there will be missteps. Microsoft’s AI Tay famously failed in its quest to stand on its own. Programmatic ad platforms are beleaguered by calls for more transparency and attention to brand safety. And last year saw more data breaches than ever before.
A study by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Amplero late last year found that 87 percent of C-level marketing executives believe that human intervention with machines is a necessity. And we are seeing more companies use more human interactions in their AI and machine learning processes — for oversight and for the nuance and context that machines can’t yet discern.
But we also have to be prepared for other possibilities. One example that comes to mind is human/AI hybrids, a concept being researched by Elon Musk’s Neuralink. Neuralink seeks to create a link between humans and machines, complete with cybernetic implants that interface with devices and programs. It sounds like science fiction, yet here we are.
New data points, new risks
I spoke recently with Thinfilm, a company that uses near field technology (NFC) to get customers to tap their mobile devices on an NFC-object, such as product label, to get a desired action. The company considers these “tap events” to be new data points.
But some newer data points seem far riskier. With the advent of all things voice: smart speakers, voice assistants, voice-enabled shopping, we’re seeing data collection that is less defined, often with murky permissions that are buried in terms of service. And fears of unauthorized surveillance were stoked recently, when a couple’s private conversation in their home was recorded by Alexa and sent to a random person in their contact list.
The potential for weaponization of data
There may be a time when massive data breaches look positively quaint. We’ve already seen what can occur when data gets into the wrong hands — evidenced most recently and most stunningly by the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal. But we’re also on the cusp of even more insidious uses of data, including the production and targeting of increasingly believable “fake news.”
But it’s not all bad.
Michael Priem, founder and chief executive officer of ad firm Modern Impact, says, “the future of data rests in consumer awareness.”
“As data has become table stakes for mature brands to execute their business, consumers are also questioning their control,” Priem said.
Oversight and consumer participation will be key, Priem says:
Data is inevitably going to have new and evolving regulations as it has grown more complex, assessable and sophisticated. Like economies that grow more sophisticated, data also requires regulations in order to protect the entire ecosystem.
Data has historically been about brands and applications collecting data, with limited active involvement from consumers; now post-Facebook breach consumers want more clarity into what is being collected and how it’s used. A more balanced conversation between the industry and consumers has just begun.
Expect the unexpected
If history is any indication, stories about data management, data handling and data security will see some twists and turns, with some wild stops on the way. Just last week, a Facebook user tried to auction their personal data on eBay — a move that garnered some $400 in bids until the auction platform closed it down.
Data is here to stay
If you’re like me, you’ve been scratching your head about a lot of topics these days, among them data — yours, your family’s and the subject in general. We’ve considered doomsday scenarios where the machines become more sentient and take over — and optimistic scenarios where our world becomes more efficient and convenient.
The truth is probably somewhere in between. The data train has left the station: it’s out there and it’s out there in huge amounts. But the new privacy laws here and abroad, coupled with an increasing uproar against Google and Facebook for “forced consent,” may create change that allows consumers to maintain the convenience that data collection provides, while protecting them at the same time.
One thing for sure? The story of data is really just beginning.