as we become more reliant of technology to problem solve some of the most simplest of problems for us, are we becoming dumbed down by our dependencies? Are the computers getting smarter as a result? The inventor of the web says absolutely.
“Companies,” says web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, “are increasingly going to be run by computers. And computers are getting smarter and we are not.” The only solution, he argues, is for people to embrace new technology, and accept that some jobs will simply disappear.
Sir Tim is, as he puts it, “in London to think about the future”. Today he will speak at the Intellectual Property Expo, last month he addressed senior technology executives at a dinner organised by PR and marketing agency SapientNitro, but the over-riding theme across these and other engagements is data. “Opening up government data I’m very keen on,” says Sir Tim with his usual understatement, “and the release of enterprise data is going to be more important.”
In practice, that means that consumers – within a framework Sir Tim would like to see better defined – will be able to see more and more of what companies and the state know about them, and both parties to that arrangement will be able to try to extract maximum value. Individuals might more easily be able to see if they should switch current accounts, for instance, while businesses will be able to make more informed suggestions.
But even as data about us becomes more valuable than ever, users still shouldn’t start to think they can get rich by selling the right to access ever more personal details. Facebook makes just $0.60 per user per quarter, after all. “People have got a bit fixated on monetising my personal data and being able to produce some sort of path to get cash back,” says Sir Tim. “But [companies are] really using it in bulk to carry out a brand strategy. In reality the value of my personal data is greater to me than it is to you.”
Still, users can gather up their data to derive new insights about themselves and then put them to good use in a way that is currently neglected: “People feel passionately but I think we’re missing a lot of the value of personal data because it’s stored in these different silos,” says Sir Tim. He points out that businesses have long been quick to realise this value for their own interests. “Enterprises do data integration or they die – if you can’t do a query across the company you die. Companies like Mint that integrate across the financial side of your life but that’s the start.”