Published Work

A Well Known Secret

Published in Trend on 18th June 2015
Published in Trend on 18th June 2015

Money is virtual. Goods are cheap. We live, shop, dream and learn over the internet. What had been a pastime has become a paradigm. Internet is like nuclear weapons – it has been invented too soon for the humanity too young to handle it. Internet melts entire industries, transforms societies and brings continents closer.

Published in Trend on 18th June 2015
Published in Trend on 18th June 2015

Telephone carriers will be the first to go. To Africa, that is. After a period of market concentration when one carrier undercut another with an ever-cheaper tariff, better roaming packages and faster broadbands, the industry has entered its final stage. Telephone signal does not matter anymore and only few of us will need it pretty soon. In a few years, all communication will be through smartphones over the internet using wifi. Millions of wifi hotspots will create a network of internet gates in big cities, so that a smartphone will easily move between one another and stay constantly connected. Google is already developing this solution under the name “Project Nova”. And so like animals migrating during winter to warmer places, telephone carriers may find their opportunity in the emerging mobile payments in Africa. Vodafone’s M-Pesa brings nothing short of a revolution to thousands of poorest Africans, as it enables them to send and receive money by a simple text message through their cellphones. For people who had to previously rely on bus drivers, traffickers and other unsafe means to get their hard-earned money to relatives in secluded parts of this vast continent, this technology is ground-breaking – however retarded it may seem to us. This is just a first step, since with the improved financial infrastructure in place, thousands of micro-businesses will emerge in Africa, which will create demand for a whole myriad of services. No one will be in a better position to meet it than telephone carriers, already entrusted with the money of their clients. Indeed, the internet transforms and melts the entire industries.

Not everybody will survive. From the dawn of ages banks have fulfilled an immensely important role. The transfer of financial means – from those who have to those in need – has kept entire economies afloat, gave life to good ideas and allowed some to survive during the times of hardship. But their business model is running towards a cliff. Banks, by definition, are built to manage tangible wealth – manage, store and keep flowing the mass of bank notes and coins. Now, however, the money is an abstract construct – a system of numbers floating between electronic accounts in a digital world. Apple Pay, Paypal and their competitors are steadily removing the last traits of our distrust of the online payment system. In future, being with an access to electronic payments will be equivalent to economic impotence.

In the new digital world, personal information – not money – becomes the fuel and catalyst of the entire economies. Giant internet companies are giving out services online for free in exchange for a virtual footprint that we leave behind. Google’s gmail, translate, or any of its strange inventions like the self-driving car are all after the same goal – to encompass an ever larger part of our lifes. Facebook’s share price is through the roof, because no other entity has such a first-hand and close knowledge of almost 1.5 billion people. The value of this knowledge is immense. Because we now shop, learn, communicate and interact in every possible way with the rest of the world through internet, those who will be able to keep our attention will get our cash. An intelligent fridge, small smartwatch on our wrist and a nice smartphone in our pocket – they will all collect and share information about us, so that when we go online to buy groceries, products of the right calorific value and our taste and liking will pop up on the screen. We will buy from an eshop that pays the highest price for our personal information. Direct marketing at its best. Big Brother in a fearfully real form.

Published in Trend on 18th June 2015
Published in Trend on 18th June 2015

But, the Big Data phenomenon goes way beyond advertising. Companies with an ownership over our personal information, our every movement, decision and action will be able to offer services which have not existed before. A traffic application monitoring movement of thousands people in a defined corridor by
tracking their smartphones will give us perfect information about most efficient route to work, avoiding late buses, overcrowded subways and streets congested with walkers. The application will guide many people simultaneously in the same corridor, making their movement immensely efficient by making everyone informed of everyone else at the same time. As the cost of medical care continues to grow around the world, casual doctor check-ups will be replaced by services on distance. There are already smartphone applications, which enable users to send a photo, or other health data information to a specialist, who gives diagnosis on distance. In near future, an algorithm will replace the specialist for minor patient queries, responding automatically. All this information will be stored and sold on to pharma giants and other research organisations. The level of automation will reach a completely new level. A bank will need much less employees. Instead a computer program will assess our creditworthiness based on our social background observed from Facebook, career progression chances from LinkedIn and our purchase history on Amazon. Big Data is an achievement of technology, not intellect. With the today’s multiplied processing power, vastly larger amount of data can be stored and observed. Computer algorithms are often simple, making basic causal observations, but on an immensely big population. When the computer analyzes millions of patient diagnoses, sudden casual relationships and interdependancies between symptoms amerge. If A, then B.

The principle can be applied across many other areas. New data mining companies are turning their focus towards “Narrative data”. By tracking millions of our interactions on social sites, they aim to predict and assess, but first and foremost sell judgements about us. It is possible to draw a map of behaviours based on the language we use – to decipher our personality from millions of little everyday decisions we make. The phenomenon of Narrative Data is, therefore, just perfect for online dating. Slightly embarassing, but completely necessary, the dating sites often give us the only chance to meet in our busy lifes. A new
generation of matching algortihms will emerge that will align people according to their character observed by a cold computer. Previously, the dating sites have put in front of their members daft multiple choice
questions in a hopeless effort to assess their personality. Now, however, a computer will be assigned to each one of us, tracking storing and observing our digital footprint. It will record our interactions on social sites and our film, music and book taste based on our streaming history and past purchases. An algorithm will go through the essays we write about ourselves, decipher common traits and make observations about our subconscious and often unrealised preferences.

Judgments about what we need and want at a particular point in time in a particular place will be valuable to companies. It will enable them to sell a product or a service that solves our most impending need or desire. Some companies have already realised that the personal information will become the gold of future. They are beginning to sell services for protecting, storing and managing our personal information on our behalf. For a regular monthly payment, team of professionals manages, updates and improves our virtual footprint – the information stored about us on social sites and other internet platforms. Gradually, our personal information will become monetized. It will have a defined value just like any commodity. Companies will happily pay the Facebooks, LinkedIns and Googles of this world, in order to understand us better. And yet, they might miss an obvious opportunity – the dating sites. Being somewhere on the edge of social acceptability, the dating sites are silently collecting masses of data about us. They are a well known secret.

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