Rudi Dicks

//Durban programmer

All The Data’s Gone

Repetition of user generated data is everywhere online. Reposts of identical questions, answers, and ideas have almost become cyclical in nature, with no new content ever being created.

The common forums are fully saturated, and it seems some could viably be closed down, and archived, with no detriment to the service.

Sure, a new niche comes along every once in a while, and the internet collectively hails it as the next big thing – a disruptive idea to the market, a new perspective on something that needed to be reinvented. With these new ideas come new content – with some gathering more user data than others.

Sure, Uber could sell my personal details, my habits, and probably a lot more than I give them credit for, but that has already been done by Microsoft, and Google, and Facebook, and Twitter. All data that has any worth may well have been absorbed by one service or another.

I am not a fan of social media, and I don’t tend to keep regular online habits. I use what I need to, when I need to – but as I sit here writing this, I doubt I have not voluntarily given up every piece of my real life to the sum total of all services I use. The constant demand of living in a tech-driven world has wrung me of my worth to advertisers and analysts. They know me, and everyone else, well enough to target their ads, their products, and anything else they would care to throw at me.

I would argue the same for the longer term too. It is not unthinkable that AI would grow exponentially in the next 2-10 years. Experts in the field support this timeframe, and by the progress being made, I would be surprised at any other outcome. High quality AI systems, as we know them, currently require some form of relevant input data. Self-driving cars need to recognise a stop sign in all conditions, so as many pictures of them as possible are analysed. Stock markets rely (perhaps too heavily), on historical financial data. The list goes on, and on, and on.

The more data to analyse, the better. But at what point does it become irrelevant? Only so many pictures of what a stop sign looks like will matter – after a certain point AI will be able to interpolate the message faster and better than a human could. There are exceptions, or course – but what is the real purpose of harvesting new data when it is almost all already gathered?

Will Twitter and Facebook slow their practices down, and decrease in popularity overnight? Have some business models been playing the long game, and hold a reserve of “new” data that can still be valuable? Will they become desperate enough to exploit users to a new degree in a bid to stay relevant?

I fear that we are closer to a horizon of seeing the nature of a post-data collection phase, with the context of innovation, than we think. The current concerns of user security and privacy may be irrelevant in the coming years, as we have already passed the point of mass potion of these services.

This has left me with one question – will the current issues we face online still be relevant soon? Or will there be a new set of rules to worry about? Is there a chance this end of an era could be positive, and actually take us a step towards a safer and more beneficial future?

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