Are You Part of the Data Elite?

In today’s digital world, everything we do creates data. We are creating data from our shopping behaviors, driving patterns and from the food we eat. It seems as though we are all on a quest for ultimate efficiency through data analysis.

This trend has led to a class known as the data-elite. As technology quickly advances, I fear society has inadvertently been creating a demographic of people who are data illiterate. My worry is that since technology is progressing so fast, cultural norms and education programs cannot keep pace. If we aren’t careful, we’ll fall victim to the perils of Sisyphus, as soon as we think we have progressed, we’ll be thrown right back down the hill. To me, the data elite is a quickly growing demographic. These are the people who:

  • Understand how manage, store and find insights from data.
  • Building the apps, attending hackathons or are knowledgeable on how to leverage open source coding.
  • Can analyze data and extract value from the volumes of data society is creating.
  • Robust understanding of statistics.

As a society we are obligated to lift all members up, and thankfully, the growing trends of open government, open data are helping to transform society for the better. We’ve seen countless examples of when an open data project has lifted up a community. Code for America, Presidential Management Innovation Fellows and Fuse Corps are three of dozens of programs designed to connect the data elite to government, leveraging data to transform communities.

I am optimistic about the data elite’s role in transforming our society for the better. That’s why I am fascinated about the concepts around the “internet of things,” and the ability for us to connect literally everything in our lives around data. As we continue to move towards this hyper connectivity, it’s important to take a step back and remember that a new class of power is emerging – the data elite.

The concept of the data-elite became readily clear to me as I attended the Wolfram Data Summit last week, hosted by Wolfram Research. The summit had dozens of absolutely fascinating presentations, and was one of my favorite conferences I’ve been to this year. Wolfram Research did an amazing job of pulling in speakers from every sector and showing the power of data and how data is transforming our society.

Wolfram Research is a really interesting company, working on cutting edge projects related to computational knowledge. Wolfram Research is a private company that creates computation software. They are known for the software, Mathematic, a computational software program that is predominantly used in the scientific, engineering, mathematical and computing fields.

In 2009, Wolfram Research released a computational web-based search engine, Wolfram Alpha. Unlike a Google search engine, Wolfram Alpha allows you to ask factual queries, and references directly sourced and curated data, rather than providing a list of documents and web pages that hold the answers. For instance, at the summit Stephen Wolfram, The founder and current president of Wolfram Research, queried: How many baseballs does it take to fill a 747?

The question creates an extremely complex coding language. The core problem faced by Wolfram’s engineers is that linguistics is not modular or structured, we ask questions and talk completely unstructured. Wolfram takes this information, and codes, process and finds answers. Wolfram described this process as ‘microsourcing,’ or progressively adding resources to sourcing information. This is a much different process than an Internet query to search for information. “You can compute, even if you think it’s just qualitative communication, and they give you a good view of what’s happening in the system,” said Wolfram.

Wolfram Alpha’s users are generally multi-sector. Wolfram’s computational power is well suited for students looking for help on their math homework. With Wolfram Alpha, you can enter your math equations, and Wolfram will not only solve for you, but will provide step-by-step instructions on how they found the answer.

As I sat through the presentations, I often returned to the idea of the data elite and the impact (and responsibility) government has in governing data applications and educating citizens on how data is used. Stephen Wolfram also mentioned the importance of education for citizens. “I see data science as an important direction for education, and I decided that in order to define what data science is was to make a course about it myself.” (See some examples here)

Wolfram also spent some time talking about the future of computational knowledge and direction for Wolfram Research. Wolfram believes they have only begun to leverage the potential of computational knowledge. He believes the future will involve the convergence of many different IT systems. “We’re only scraping the surface and we are on a path towards a convergence of a lot of technologies from raw data to deployed systems.” This is especially true when you consider the convergence of cloud, mobile and data storage capabilities.

Wolfram also noted his interest in the “internet of things,” and how sensor data and hardware devices collect data for everything, and the role this will play in the future. The hope is that Wolfram will be able to curate data from these devices. “We are slowly seeing a birth of knowledge based computing, together with universal deployment and connects to devices,” said Wolfram.

Wolfram Research is built around the desire to make as much of the worlds knowledge as possible computable. With the rate at which technology is changing, Wolfram is moving closer to this goal every day, “It’s exciting at this time due to technology and work we have been doing, a lot of things are becoming possible,” said Wolfram.

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