Andreas Weigend, Social Data Revolution | MS&E 237, Stanford University, Spring 2011 | Course Wiki

2020 Predictions

Date: Jun 7, 2011
Initial authors: [Suthinand Jirakulpattana (Pao),], [Addy Satija,]Rhampapacht Vorapatchaiyanont,]


On Sep 24, 2010 in Amsterdam, 40 participants got teogther to discuss scenarios that they saw happen in 2020.

Salient Observations

Redefining Language

“The limits of my language are the limits of my world” [Ludwig Wittgenstein Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922)]. Language is shaped by the world we live in. Tens of thousands of non-digital, non-networked years shape our initial understanding of the connected, digital world, and is changing when “things” can be identically reproduced and speedily distributed for free.
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Redefining Information Access

While ability to access is one ingredient, the ability to change date is a more complex one since the identity and reputation management is more important here. More generally, if owning something means you can do with it whatever you want, the system has to keep track of who has changed what in order to potentially discard incorrect or malicious changes. Unlike physical objects, communication objects can, by their very essence, record when they are accessed. This symmetry will lead to reciprocity amongst owners for access: “If you show me yours, I show you mine”

Redefining Information Overload

For decades, the production of personal data has doubled roughly every 1.5 years. That means that right now we have only 1% of the data we will have in 2020. The bulk of the data we will have in 2020 will not have been generated by ‘conscious’ or explicit creation of data (e.g. by blogging) but by ‘implicit’ or ambient generation of data using sensors such as those that record our clicks, our eye-movements, our skin conductivity, our blood pressure, our level of excitement etc. 'Ambient data' itself will have physical and social (including those of our friends) dimensions.
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Information stored physically tends to age with time. Furthermore, we all know how hard it gets to find some piece of paper after a while. This serves as a way of dealing with information overload. Should digital information also “age” algorithmically?

Redefining Information Ownership

Physical documents are difficult to change or forge. In contrast, it is trivial to change digital documents? We predict everything will be tracked, and we will be able to view all changes an individual made, and judge these changes. This is a radical change of the concept of ‘ownership’. 

Redefining Identity

We predict that instead of a single reality, reality will be socially constructed thereby blurring the boundary between what is physical and digital. We predict increasing reliance on persistent online identity, that we expect to be more important in most people’s lives than their citizenships. Note that in contrast to a passport, the online identity resides in the network, not on a single document. The keeper of your identity will be the cloud. And, faking an entire network is a lot more difficult than faking a piece of paper. People who insist on anonymity will find it increasingly difficult to be taken seriously.


Data Ownership (& Identity)

By 2020, we will have a complete revolution as to the notion of social data ownership. In contrast to the contemporary notion of ownership of physical things, digital objects are totally different. As a consequence, new social norms with regards to data ownership must emerge. In terms of the creation of data, people create data both consciously and unconsciously. People may be surprised to learn that each and every single query counts as data, which reflects a certain aspect about ourselves.

What exactly will be your identity in 2020? The prediction is that by 2020, there will be an internationally-recognized organization that saves your identity code.

Accessing and Changing Data

The next logical step once someone has created data is the access and modifications of existing data. With regards to accessing data, unless we have the new technology that guards your data, if I release some piece of data it will remain there forever. The innovation must have a much richer encryption, so that it grants only a temporary access. This must be coupled with some identity management system. Furthermore, similar to data derived from the physical world, social data must also age.

Furthermore, the interactions possess the characteristic of ‘Sequential Information Revelation’ – simply put as ‘I show you, then you show me’. Such scheme is inherent in every search query, allowing for a much more symmetric relationship and richer communication channel. Companies that want to stay on top of the latest trends can simply study the search queries. People must reveal their identity or, at least, certain aspect of their identity.

In addition, there will have to be efforts to bridge the gap between online and offline identities. To have a clear idea of this, consider the role of the passport that is used to display basic information that comprises your identity – something that can easily be faked. However, in contrast to physical data, it may be quite hard to fabricate fake online social data – your friends will immediately recognize such efforts.

Type of Data Collected

It is predicted that there will be a radical shift in the type of data that will be collected by the time of 2020 – with about 99.9% of all data coming from the human senses, but not ‘explicitly from humans’. The implicit data that will represent most of the data collected will be ambient data, which includes a wide range of data that people unconsciously create such as clicks, length of clicks, eye-movement, attraction to people, quality of voice, blood-pressure, blood-sugar, food-intake, exercise-pattern/frequency, etc.

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Gamification of Life

The radical shift in the type of collected data in 2020 will induce people to change their behavior to maximize each individual’s life goal. For example, health insurance companies that are able to the clients’ data on exercise and diet can accordingly offer them appropriate insurance premiums. As a consequence, the clients now have the incentive to change their behavior to conduct cost-benefit analysis and hopefully think twice before eating that bacon in the hope of reducing their insurance premium. For everything a user does, he/she either gains or loses points. However, another relevant question that must be asked is who determines the number of points. Should you let market forces determine the allocation of points? Can you trade or borrow these points? What about the life-time of these points? Should it decay over time?

However, an obstacle that persists is whether there is a correlation between understanding and taking action. For example, people generally understand that exercise is good for them in the long run, yet they choose to seek short-term benefit of enjoying that oily Big-Mac. Hopefully, with the online social data with the real-time feedback, users will be able to make better choices.

Another aspect of the gamification of life is that companies can reward loyal customers with points. The key to the gamification of life is to motivate people while rewarding them. Similar to other games, the gamification of life that companies such as BranchOu attempt to implement targets at the users’ competitive nature.

Health Implications

While talking about how gamification enables people to make better decisions such as exercising more regularly, the role of social data in 2020 will not remain limited to the individual level, but will also benefit society as a whole. For instance, when people decrypt their DNA data researchers might be able to use such data that may lead to advances in medical breakthrough.

In the future, education, especially higher-education, will take a radically different approach. Human knowledge will be amassed and cataloged on the internet, and could be authorized for access by anyone who wants to learn a subject. Future universities would thus exist online, in the internet. Universities as we know them now, brick-and-mortar institutions, will serve only a secondary purpose in education – as a social gathering place or for any event that a physical presence is required. Premium education, taught and given by the best authorities in each field, would no longer be confined to just a handful of premium universities. With live and recorded broadcasts available on the internet, quality lectures on all subjects, be they Linear Algebra or Latin, can be equally accessed by millions of students in the world. The role of universities will be different; they would primarily provide the discourse, guidelines, and platforms for what is and what is not relevant information in a subject matter. Future universities will have no walls.

Brain Implementation

In the future, there will be new forms of Interaction between Human and Computer. For instance, imagine a person with a computer chip buried in his/her brain, which effectively act as an internet browser for the brain to access all kinds of information on the internet. There will be rich and far-reaching communication channels between the accumulated knowledge of humanity and the single human brain. A person will have to make constant judgment and decision about which of the vast pool of instant information is true, which is false, and which is relevant for him/her. The human process of thought will be based on a different set of values and guidelines beyond the scope of social and contextual filters that we are accustomed with today.

Mind over Matter

The future human mind will be bombarded with megatons of information and data. It is crucial therefore that the human mind must develop the ability to switch to the most appropriate modes in managing those information. It must learn when and how to do an analysis, to perform a synthesis, or simply to let basic human instinct such as love to take over, in response to different kinds of information. Human must learn to control their experiences, without the needs or dependency on external stimulants and objects. Self control of the human mind would be an essential skill for survival in the future world.

Type of Transmitted Data

In the future world, people will constantly exchange all types of data – not only textual or audio-visual data, but also digitized data about our personal feelings and experiences. Sensors that measure the responses of our physical senses to our environment, including heart-beats and skin sensitivity, and share the information on the internet, will be widespread. (MIT media-lab is already successful in measuring skin conductivity.) Ultimately, data about a person’s DNA will be made available, and merged with the collective DNAs of the human species. Every aspect of our lives, our life-stream data, will be connected to the human society. It is not impossible that, within 10 years, a quantum leap may be achieved in the field of telepathic communication by non-quantum technology.
The concept of data ownership will be radically different. Once your data are released on the internet, they will be there forever and become public properties. You cannot really control the access of your data. With advanced data encryption, you may control the access to your data temporarily Our concept of owning physical objects would be obsolete in comparison to the new concept of owning digital online data. The price for a person to pay for searching the personal database on the online community is that he/she must also reveal his/identity to the community.
As in physical objects, personal digital data can also age or change with the passage of time. Changing of personal data must be done in conjunction with a proper identity management system to avoid frauds and other problems.
The identity of a person will be kept online. These data about a person’s identity will come not only from the “explicit data” given by the person but also by the “implicit data” deriving from the senses - (clicks, eye-movement, attraction to people, quality of voice, blood-pressure, blood-sugar, and food-intake). In the future, these “ambient data” will account for 99% of the collected data.

Behavior Change

There will be sweeping changes in many fronts of the human behavior made possible by the constant exchange and swift feedbacks of personal data, such as in the area of health, energy consumption, and the future of work.
For instance, in health, an individual will have a much deeper understanding of the mental mode of eating food, exercising, and other aspects of taking care of personal health. Constant exchanges and rapid feedbacks of personal heath data, made available by various sensors, would also lead to concrete action, not only understanding, in keeping the human body and mind in good shapes. Similar success can be achieved in changing our behavior in relation to energy consumption. For instance, the immediate feedbacks on our usage of water and gasoline, in comparison with our neighbors, would prompt us to be more responsible in consuming water (a scarce environmental resource) and gasoline (a scarce energy resource). The cumulative total effect may contribute substantially to the GDP growth of the country. (Changes in the future of “work” are discussed in the following section.)

Future of Work

Historically, in the age of the Industrial Revolution, machines were precious (expensive) resources, and people must be arranged to fit in with the machines. In order to use the machine, people had to be scheduled to arrive and be present at a specified place and time, to make sure that the (precious and scarce) machine was fully utilized. (In this way, the machine is a bottleneck to people’s lives.)

But a machine is no longer the bottleneck. Now there is a new kind of revolution. Machines and systems have become so cheap and readily available for everybody, and they must fit in with the people instead. For almost all people in the world, they are the bottlenecks and we have to find out what they are good at. And that is, in turn, determined by the data, by the identities, and to some degree, by the sensors, in the sense that the sensors will be responsible for doing a good job in finding out the situations somebody’s in.

And so, that would be the impact that the new revolution will have on the future of work. That is, in a richer environment, we can do a much better job of getting people to do what they want to do – of empowering people to live the life they love.

We have to think what will happen to the concept of “work” in 2020?

The future of work is pretty clear. The future of work would mean that people can be at the home, or wherever they are, doing whatever they want, and getting paid on a micro level, maybe in “points” or points for change of behavior, because of the rich data interface. For example, if you are in the middle of doing something important and you are offered enough points, or dollars or euros, then you might be willing to stop what you are doing and do something else. But, what is required is very different - just the constant mutual exchange of your status, or your presence. The concept of work is thus distinctly different from the one in the older Industrial revolution age, when people were required to show up at a certain time, to be present at a specified place, in order to work.

This constantly changing of status is allowing, or enabling, the future of work. The value of time is not constant but changing. The value of a minute in someone’s life depends on what he/she is doing at the time. For instance, a minute of the time that you are sleeping is more valuable and expensive (more traumatic to be interrupted) than the time when you are sitting on a train.

The key point is that, because we have this much richer exchange of data (mainly data about identity with sensors) the negotiation of people’s time at the “workplace,” based on data identity and sensors, will be truly of a different (and better) quality, not just quantity, compared to what we are having now.