Would You Give Up Your Data For Science?

The world is not as private a place as it might seem.

Even though you might be sitting quietly at work, on your way back home on the train or relaxing in front of the latest Netflix series, your life is being scrutinised. Some of the data will be for your eyes only, and there is a certain amount of choice as to what is in the public domain, but much of the snooping is still done without our knowledge or consent.

The data genie is well and truly out of the bottle, but if he is to be fully empowered, we have to get used to the idea that privacy is an outdated concept.

Many of us are happy to donate our organs after we leave this world to benefit others, but why is there still a reluctance to share the data from our tech wearables? This could save multiple lives.

I suppose that it stems from the fact that we have been taught not to “talk to strangers.” The more others know about us, the more power they have over us, and sharing our data with some faceless corporation is still seen as too much of a risk.

Maybe we are still in the early stages of being able to prove the benefits, but it is my hunch that within the next decade we will all proudly be sharing every aspect of our lives (and following with fascination the lives of those around us). No matter how wide our social circles might be, it is always interesting to have the opportunity to learn from others.

Let’s share a simple example. You might be unfortunate to find yourself in the early stages of dementia. You have a family history and you realise that it is almost inevitable, but rather than rely on advice about what helped your relatives, you can dig deep into the experience of tens of thousands of others, looking for common threads and finding the best way forward for yourself.

There is nothing more powerful than the wisdom of crowds, and the big data industries are enabling this on an unprecedented scale. They simply need our data.

Another aspect of giving away our data is that we worry that “robots” will be coming to conclusions about us rather than “humans.” We want to be understood, and there definitely need to be significant advances in technology before a robot can reach the level of human understanding and empathy. With the huge volumes of data involved, machine learning will be a critical component, and when people finally start to trust the robots, they will be more ready to share ever more of their lives.

The road to full transparency of personal data is still a long one, but the benefits for humanity are too great to ignore. If “human” safeguards can be built in the system to engender trust, then I see no reason why we won’t all be giving up our data for science within the next few years. Some of us are willingly doing it already.

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Tags: big, data, science, wearables


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