For such an innocuous word, “data” has created some serious tension in the world of tech policy. But given the technological transformation being driven by data, this tension is understandable — and how it is resolved may well determine the future of American innovation.
On one end of the spectrum are those who distrust the data-driven online economy. On the other are those who see data as an asset that is empowering innovation and economic opportunity. What’s increasingly clear, however, is that the data revolution is behind some of the greatest innovations of our time. Policies that seek to curb the use of data threaten to stifle this nascent technological and economic revolution before it can truly take hold.
Driven by the combination of cloud computing, the proliferation of Internet-connected mobile devices, increasing mobile bandwidth and changing culture of users, the IT ecosystem is evolving at unprecedented speed. Rather than simply being accessed on computers — as was the case just a few years ago — the Internet powers myriad devices and will soon be integrated into virtually all devices and into the basic functions of everyday life.
Powering all of this change is data. Data is a critical raw material of production, a new source of immense economic and social value. As computing power, storage and Internet connectivity advance, and data and analytics continue to develop, the scope of useful information has exponentially expanded. We are entering a new era of data-driven innovation — with consumers, businesses and governments increasingly able to ingest massive amounts of data, apply hundreds of analytical queries and develop solutions in real time.
The rapidly evolving IT ecosystem is transforming how we communicate, learn, transact and consume information and multimedia. Entrepreneurs and established businesses are putting data to work to change the world for the better, applying their innovations to everything from roadways, financial services, health care, consumer goods and food production and delivery.
A range of previously unimaginable applications of data-driven innovation are already being produced — or will be in the near future. These innovations are making people’s lives better and safer and more prosperous, while also increasing energy efficiency and saving money.
Right now, hospitals are providing better care by analyzing data about the triage process and using that information to eliminate wasteful steps that prevent patients from getting to the doctor quickly. Traffic-management centers are processing millions of cellphone and GPS signals, combining them with a wide range of other data about car speeds, weather conditions and more to assess road conditions in real time and avoid traffic jams. And financial services companies can collect and integrate customer transaction information in real time to quickly identify questionable patterns and proactively enact new processing rules to reduce fraud.
This data-driven innovation benefits both individuals and the broader economy. In a time of challenge both at home and in the world, data helps society use its resources more efficiently and respond effectively to problems that affect us all, from natural disasters to health care to global poverty.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.