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Ultra-connectivity: Faust, the Devil and the Detail


via Flickr © ictQATAR (CC BY 2.0)

Until recently we all used to think “information systems” involved networked computers capable of distributing ‘content’ and ‘information’ to where it was needed and consumed… by users.

Today we’re all more likely to hear the same two words and think of  information - personal and corporate - flowing back the other way. Back from where it is generated on social networking sites, from search terms, from our commercial accounts, phone records, and even from - as one corporation defines it - the Internet of Everything.

And we would be right to do so. For better or for worse the world that we already inhabit runs on high-grade information fuel, much of it personal. The resulting ‘big data’ is sliced, diced, amalgamated, analysed and stored, and the distilled knowledge is used to target advertisements, improve brand image and finesse customer engagement. It can even form the basis for detailed product and system design.

“I think the topic of ‘big data’ and how it generates more value than oil has been an interesting theme for a long time,” says futurist Gerd Leonhard, CEO of The Futures Agency and Curator and Moderator for the Leadership Summit on the Future at the upcoming ITU Telecom World 2014 in Doha, 7-10 December.

“But now it’s happening and you can see that all business ideas are actually based on users opting in and providing their personal data, mashing up that data, even giving it to third parties. The whole thing is that we’re becoming a data economy. It already drives all transactions and we’re pretty much on our way to moving into the cloud as people - we use the cloud to find our maps,  plan our day, update our stocks, keep up-to-date with the news. Digital money even looks like eventually replacing conventional money.”

Leadership Summit offers broad view of the near-future

The Leadership Summit will cover the most important current and near-future developments in the ICT sector. It’s designed to equip decision-makers from government and industry with a clear understanding of specific issues as well as offer an overall context for policy and strategy.

Gerd will be joined by an impressive line-up of thought leaders who will speak onto a broad range of topics including the Internet of Things, Human-machine scenarios, hyper connectivity and hyper-efficiency, artificial intelligence and the future of privacy and  digital rights (see the speaker list here).

“I suppose the most pressing topic is about how technology is changing every aspect of our lives in some good ways and some bad ways, and what that means to the ICT industry,” says Gerd. “Internet of things, big data and artificial intelligence, are the main drivers of economic trends. In five years we’ll see major changes from what we have now.

“The challenge is that we’re heading into a world which is blessed or cursed with what I call ultra-connectivity. This brings with it huge benefits and huge problems. It would be too easy to say we should not do this…or we should disconnect completely. We can’t do that and we don’t really have a choice about whether we, as individuals, connect. We can’t just have a free-for-all: we do need to have some sort of balance. This is not a question of technology, but of ethics, social contracts and laws that will ultimately  guide the good and exclude the bad.”

“We all undertake a faustian bargain when we use platforms like Facebook. We get to use the amazing platforms and in return we give up our data, but I can see a future where we are going to start making small payments [instead of accepting all the ads and the information gathering] to create this thing for ourselves.”

But how do we hit the right balance?

“I think a lot of people would be willing to pay, say, $30 a year to remain private and not be sold down the river. People are moving away from from the idea of ‘Free at all costs’.  If the costs are reasonable then people are prepared to pay and at the same time they are prepared to allow some sort of advertising as long as they’re not being totally overwhelmed. The challenge will be to find a system that  doesn’t create a faustian bargain that is completely one-sided.

At least the ads will be better

“The whole advertising economy has been turned upside down because now advertising has to be interesting  -  people won’t watch stuff they don’t want, especially on their mobile.  Algorithms will figure out what the best possible placement is in the context of a huge sea of data.

The job for an advertiser is not to figure that out any more, but to create those sticky stories."

The WSJ calls Futurist, Author and TheFuturesAgency CEO Gerd Leonhard "one of the leading media-futurists in the world". Gerd is considered a thought-leader and global influencer in the media / content, technology, marketing & communications, telecom, and cultural industries, with a client list that includes many leading global companies. He is also an author, a strategic advisor, and a fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts (London). Since 2011, Gerd's area of expertise also includes important "green" topics. Find out more at www.futuristgerd.com, www.thefutureshow.tv, www.thefuturesagency.com or on Twitter @gleonhard



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