Why Unified Data is Inevitable — The Current State of Data [Part 1]
At Unification, we believe that unified data not only has the capacity to revolutionize the way our society functions, but also that it is the inevitable future of data management.
In this three-part series, we explore the need for unified data, the means we’re using to accomplish it, and the types of organizations it will affect most.
If you wish to skip ahead, click here to read “Why Unified Data is Inevitable — The Importance of Blockchain [Part 2] and “Why Unified Data is Inevitable — The Relevance to Enterprise [Part 3].”
In many ways, it can feel like technology has reached a state of total immersion in our society. It seems hard to remember a time when smartphones weren’t intertwined with the fabric of human existence, or when we couldn’t ask the hive mind for its opinion with the click of a button.
And yet, when we zoom out and look at the big picture, it’s clear that as far as we have come, there is still a long way to go when it comes to creating technological innovation that maximizes human potential to its fullest extent.
If we wish to understand how we can create a better future through innovation, we have to first realize that at its core, our modern-day technological revolution hinges on data.
Looking forward, it’s obvious that apps, AI systems, and machine-learning products form the foundation of where we are heading — and data is the primary factor that allows these technologies to advance their technological capacity.
Through parsing large data sets, data-led companies are allowing us to do things with tech that we never before thought possible.
This heavy reliance on data has led to a world where data has become an asset class unto itself. Every day massive amounts of data are created by users and then exchanged, shared, bought, and sold by companies and research institutions seeking the next big breakthrough.
Data is ripe for disruption
Since data is the lifeblood of technological innovation, it would make sense for the mechanisms of its exchange to be as efficient as possible. Greater efficiency in data exchange would increase the opportunity for businesses and scientists to use data to improve the daily lives of the world’s citizens.
And yet, for the massive strides we’ve made in other parts of the technosphere, the current methods for managing & exchanging data still leave much to be be desired.
Namely, until now, the methods by which data is exchanged have been wildly inefficient, requiring significant happenstance and manual effort for companies to acquire and then incorporate data they have purchased.
Broader systems of data management are also lacking in openness, security, transparency, leading many among us to worry about the onset of a Black Mirror-like future in the relatively short term.
It’s a dangerous combination that, if left unchecked, constitutes a significant threat to the vision of a fairer, more open and connected world.
The Unification Foundation has made it our mission to address these issues and create the solution to alleviate data challenges in our modern times.
Our project allows for the emergence of truly unified data, in which data sets can be exchanged between interested parties seamlessly and instantly, while also preserving user privacy and ownership.
This is the first article in a three-part series where we will examine why we believe unified data is inevitable, and how Unification is making it a reality.
Why we need unified data
There are a number of present challenges that are stunting technological advancement, scientific discovery, and the ability for companies & users to manage data safely and ethically.
Lack of Standardization
One of the biggest challenges faced by companies and research institutions is that databases are often messy and can’t easily communicate with each other in a common language.
Presently, each database uses unique own markers to designate different types of data, meaning that when two different data sets are correlated together, it is necessary for human intervention to render each data set into a useable format.
Furthermore, the fact that data is being stored in widely varying formats means that we don’t currently have an easy way for computers to parse the world’s data independently. Discoveries emerge only from databases that humans have thought to correlate, and the correlations produced are the results only of questions that humans have thought to query.
When we standardize data and let computers parse the data, they often reveal patterns that we may not have been able to predict due to the limits of the human mind. Research institutions and A.I. companies require massive amounts of data to achieve ground-breaking results, and in many cases humans controlling these endeavors simply cannot predict what data they need to correlate for new discoveries.
Unifying data into a standardized format thus allows data sets that were previously siloed to communicate with each other for the first time. This type of standardization holds the promise of unlocking massive breakthroughs, both technological and scientific, that we heretofore have been unable to access.
Lack of Efficiency
At the present moment, there are significant barriers preventing companies collecting data from sharing it with other parties.
Namely, the world currently lacks an open data marketplace, in which data can be readily bought and sold.
For businesses and research institutions, figuring how how to acquire and sell data poses significant challenges. Most data for purchase is collected by marketing companies in specialized industries (Gnip for social media, Acxiom for consumer purchases, Nielson for media viewing, etc.) then sold through a few central exchanges or through their own dealings.
These barriers to entry are further compounded for smaller apps and websites. Without a robust data sales team, emerging companies lack a method to sell data they’ve curated or purchase new data to grow their companies and improve user experiences.
For their part, advertisers currently lack access to the complete data supply chain. They cannot easily broker deals with smaller companies, and have no transparent and ethical way to purchase data directly from users, which many individuals would be happy to provide.
This type fragmentation within data exchange means that, more of than not, data is not being correlated effectively. Information collected remains within a singular silo, typically segmented by industry, and parties who might benefit from acquiring such data don’t have an easy access mechanism to request it for purchase.
The result is a large amount of useful information is not utilized by actors who are attempting to create the next groundbreaking innovation or scientific discovery.
Lack of Security
When data is collected, stored, and exchanged outside of the purview of users, as it is in most cases today, there is a real risk of that data being compromised and used in ways that threatens the freedom of users.
Stored centrally, data becomes susceptible to hacking, surveillance, and unwanted purchase by advertisers. Transmitted without encryption, it is easily intercepted, copied, or manipulated for unscrupulous purposes.
Because generating data is inevitable in the era of smartphones, the current methods for storing and securing data thus put everyday people at risk simply by performing the actions required for day-to-day life in our modern world.
Add to this today’s complicated information landscape and it’s a recipe for disaster. With today’s systems, true fidelity of data remains elusive, meaning we have no guarantee that information we send and receive is authentic. Because of this, there are countless ways that malicious actors can take advantage of people.
Blockchain technology offers the opportunity to shift this security paradigm dramatically, as we will explore in the second article in this three-part series.
Lack of Transparency
One of the biggest data management challenges that must be overcome is the opaque nature of what is being shared and with whom.
The average user produces a veritable mountain of data each and every day, and yet has almost no awareness of what happens to that data once it is generated.
In one example outlined in a Wall Street Journal article “How Pizza Night Can Cost More in Data Than Dollars,” it was revealed that a night spent ordering a pizza on an Amazon Alexa, watching a movie on an Apple TV, and posting a selfie to Facebook gives up a total of 53 data points users “agree” to during a blanket acceptance of various Terms of Service.
Furthermore, once this data is generated, the end user has no way to see where it is being sold and for what purpose it is being used.
In our current system, everyday users find themselves hamstrung. They must agree to cryptic and long-winded agreements in order to use the apps necessary for modern life. These Terms of Service commonly force them to give up the rights to their data, allowing unknown actors to monitor, collect, store, and sell it as they please.
Laws are finally beginning to change in favor of protecting user rights, but laws are finite and interpreted by lawyers and politicians, and can’t necessarily guarantee that the spirit of the law will be enacted.
If we wish to create an opportunity for users to participate in the conversation around data and give explicit consent to the sharing of their private information, we need a system of transparent data exchange digitally written in stone. Smart contracts executed by a blockchain-based system hold that promise, which we will explore further in the next article in this series.
How can we fix the current data system?
Given how broken the current system of data management is, presenting a better alternative is an ambitious task — and at Unification Foundation, we’re up to the challenge.
We believe that unifying data into a singular ecosystem, where it can be standardized and exchanged in a fair, open, transparent way is not only critical to the advancement of society — it is an inevitable shift that needs to happen to unlock the next wave of technological innovation.
But like any movement that gains steam and makes a significant impact, it’s important to create conditions for a win-win outcome that provides benefits to both businesses and users at the same time.
Focusing on the needs only of data sellers and purchasers without considering the importance of user privacy and data transparency would be moving us closer to a dystopian future in which data becomes a tool for disempowerment and persecution.
In the same vein, focusing only on user’s rights without regard to financial incentives and present-day business models is an unwinnable fight, due to the legitimate economic realities that must be considered when developing cutting-edge technologies.
At Unification, we have designed a sophisticated solution that keeps in mind the needs of all actors, and creates a future of unified data that can better serve us all.
To learn more about our proposed solution and how we are using blockchain technology to make unified data into a palpable reality, continue to part two of this series, “Why Unified Data is Inevitable — The Importance of Blockchain [Part 2].”
And to keep updated with Unification’s latest developments and participate in the discussion with the Unification community, join our Telegram channel here.
- Website — You’ll find a link to our whitepaper, detailed FAQs, and comprehensive team bios. Our whitepaper is a thorough and in-depth analysis of our protocol infrastructure and the landscape of data management and blockchain technology, weighing in at just over 80 pages. [unification.com]
- Github — If you are a developer, you may want to have a look at our Github where Paul, Shawn and Indika have been working tirelessly to develop out demos that illustrates the creation of UND tokens and exchange of data between apps. [github.com/unification-com/haiku-node-prototype/wiki]
- Telegram — Our Telegram channel, which is where all the magic happens. You can find Neyma Jahan and the rest of the team in there daily, answering questions and interacting with the growing Unification community. [t.me/unificationfoundation]