By Professor Sandy Pentland, Director of Human Dynamics Research, MIT Media Lab
31 July 2013: Today our cities are jammed with traffic, we have world-wide outbreaks of disease that are seemingly unstoppable and political institutions that are deadlocked and unable to act. In addition, we face the challenges of global warming, uncertain energy, water, and food supplies, and a rising population that will require building one thousand new cities of a million people each in order just to stay even.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can have smart cities that are protected from pandemics, that are energy efficient, have secure food and water supplies, and have much better government. To reach these goals, however, we need to radically rethink our approach. To ensure a sustainable future society, we must use our new digital technologies to create a ‘nervous system’ that maintains the stability of government, energy, and public health systems around the globe.
The key to building this digital nervous system are ‘digital breadcrumbs’ that we all leave behind us as we move through the world – call records, credit card transactions, and GPS location fixes, among others. My research laboratory at MIT is finding that we can use these breadcrumbs to explain phenomena—financial crashes, political upsets, flu pandemics—that were previously mysterious. Going forward, data analytics can give us stable financial systems, functioning governments, efficient and affordable healthcare, and more.
That makes these personal data immensely valuable, both for public goods and for private companies. As European Consumer Commissioner Meglena Kuneva said recently, “Personal data is the new oil of the internet and the new currency of the digital world.” This new ability to see the details of every interaction, however, can be used for good or for ill. Therefore maintaining protection of personal privacy and freedom is critical to our future success as a society.
In short, to achieve the exciting possibilities of a data driven society, we require what I have called the New Deal on Data – workable guarantees that the data needed for public goods are readily available while, at the same time, protecting the citizenry. Maintaining protection of personal privacy and freedom is critical to the success of any society.
To help guarantee such individual freedoms, over the last five years I have helped curate a discussion among leading politicians, CEOs of multinational corporations and public advocacy groups around the world. The result is a New Deal on Data developing in the commerce regulations of the UK, EU, US, and other countries. These changes are beginning to give individuals unprecedented control over data that are about them while at the same time providing for increased transparency and insight in both the public and private spheres.
In collaboration with Telefonica, I am helping to make the New Deal on Data a reality, through events such as Campus Party, where participants in the Datathon for Public Good will have the opportunity to explore the potential of open data, and in Living Laboratories, where researchers investigate how to deal with the sensitivities of collecting and using deeply personal data in real-world situations. For instance, the miData and Trento Living Labs are being used as pilots for the New Deal on Data and to discover new ways to give users control and use of their personal data.
Professor Pentland was recently appointed Board advisor to Telefónica Dynamic Insights. Read about it here.