15. April 2021

Data, New Technologies and Global Imbalances: beyond the obvious

Georges Kotrotsios - Digitalisation

Data, New Technologies and Global Imbalances: beyond the obvious

Without even noticing it, a whole generation of Swiss scientists and engineers<s> </s>at the head of industry and academia have experienced a true revolution. Year upon year, the Industry has developed amazing technologies, which have improved productivity or optimized energy efficiencies. Additionally, and most important for the revolution which we are experiencing, over the last decade or so, a new factor, Data, has emerged in the technological, industrial and societal landscape. The phrase “data is gold” has dispersed and taken root in the common lexicon. Polytechnics/Universities have added training courses or even whole departments dedicated to the science of Data. A new field that even the most prestigious institutes and research centers are now heavily invested in.

I believe that the reason for this change goes far beyond the inception of a new discipline. The expression “data is gold,” which occurs like a leitmotif, has only been briefly discussed and its real implications have not been sufficiently grasped or analyzed. This is precisely the reason I tackled the subject in my book  “Data, New Technologies and Global Imbalances: beyond the obvious”, by Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Gold, like money, is an 'asset' in economic parlance, in other words, a form of 'capital' with all the implications that this term introduces. But we have never considered or treated data as such. It is not on balance sheets, nor is it given any economic value, nor is there any talk – at least for the moment – of taxing it. Data is a special kind of capital. Unlike traditional assets, this new type of capital can be owned simultaneously by several individuals, groups, or organizations without the difficulties caused by traditional co-ownership. The ultimate singularity: its value can even vary, depending on the owners who hold it.

By its very nature, data is a form of capital, like traditional capital it can add to the net worth of a corporation and can boost for example cash reserves, when correctly used. As I illustrate in my book. “Data capital” acts as a lever for traditional capital. Data, being a form of capital and also acting as a lever to the traditional capital, data allows us to reach new potentials and innovate, create wealth and jobs in the economy but it also causes imbalances

One such imbalance is the result of competition between different types of ecosystems. Today, alongside the traditional industrial ecosystems (automotive, aeronautics, pharmaceuticals, textiles, chemicals, etc.), we can see the emergence and development of new ecosystems based on data-driven platforms. These platforms, because of their leverage on traditional capital, have accumulated masses of liquidity that allow them to grow, spread, and ‘occupy’ the space of traditional ecosystems. Autonomous cars and wearable technologies are the most glaring examples.

In the context of current technological trends, data is acting also as an accelerator in an overall movement that is simultaneously transforming technology, industry, the economy, and thus society. Each change, whether technological or economic, for example, contributes to speeding up the movement of this whole, each element of which is now intimately and increasingly intertwined.

So, what can we do to steer this revolution in the direction of balanced development and ensure it best benefits society? Ideas and solutions, still in the making, are proposed in my book, like the creation of a World Trade Organization (WTO) type structure. Such a structure would create uniform regulations on the use of data, easier access to public data, and even a “data- wealth tax".

The ideas set out in my book are just a beginning. They are intended to encourage collective reflection and an open debate on the topic. These ideas can be refuted, adopted, reformed, or better still, used to plant seeds that will hopefully grow into new solutions.

This is my hope because the stakes of this revolution are immense.

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