Why Data is the New Oil

Written by United Nations Young Leader Rainier Mallol for the World Government Summit

Back in 2006, a Sheffield mathematician named Clive Humby coined a term that today, 11 years later, still applies. Humby did not only make the comparison because of the value of information hidden in raw data, but also because, just as oil, data needs to be refined, worked on, mixed and changed, until it becomes usable. Even though there are many industries which have been forever changed with the introduction of data systems, many world governments and their leaders, directors, ministers and presidents, do not place much value in innovating the way we can through progress with the use of data.

There are now companies that are able to analyze traffic patterns better than government transport agencies, organize housing and residential communities better than government housing departments, measure education capabilities better than government education offices, and in my own company where we can control, manage and predict dangerous diseases before local Health Departments.

Why? Because many governments have failed to understand that just as our technology changes, and as people also change, the way we deal with problems should also change. There is a lack of new reforms for more digital inclusive processes, and a misconception of what new technological trends such as AI, drones, and embedded systems can do for our shared existence, and a unwillingness to create new methods to prosper through social innovations.

As the President of AIME Inc, an organization that focuses on using Epidemiology and Data Science to create data systems for the use of Public Health governments, I can say that today there are many individuals in positions of power who do not wish to improve the lives of their fellow citizens, either because they adore living in the status quo, or because they fear technology will render them obsolete. This is not only false, it’s preposterous.

The idea that governments should be slow is one that many believe blindly. Why can’t government use data driven systems, to operate and to serve its citizens? Our clients in AIME are making the shift. Today, the cities of Rio de Janeiro, Kuala Lumpur and Manila know about data-focused systems that are able to do what many never imagined possible, such as predict outbreaks 3 months in advance, figure out where a disease started, where it is going, how long it would likely take to dissipate…all of these delivered in seconds. Even though these series now know what data systems can do, getting there took at least one and a half years.

I believe in a city where every disease outbreak is predicted, where every street is free of traffic, where we are truly secure and where we can all truly trust those who make our cities what they are. However for that, an interest from the people within our organizations must exist, and I believe it will exist, eventually.