TECHNOLOGY

When You Became Data

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Data Matters

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What is the most significant thing that occurred in the 20th century? Depending on your perspective, you might say the industrial revolution, motorized transportation, personal computers, or food processing. Something rivaling each of these is the conversion of each individual into data.

You might think we have data, as a result of computers. But with terms like demographic data aggregation and browser cookies, we are collectively data—binary code and numeric statistics.

When politicians look at census data, they see red and blue states. Insurance agents see premiums. Realtors compute median household incomes and property values. The healthcare industry aggregates BMI, DNA, and ancestry.

According to STAT, a decades-old database accumulated the health of 270 million Americans. The repository of sensitive patient information includes their medical care, including: the diseases they have, the drugs they’re taking, the places their bodies are broken that they haven’t told anyone but their doctor. When winding down the Watson division, IBM sold this data for over 1 billion dollars. Obviously, patient data has value.

According to data from 25 state and local health departments, adults who were unvaccinated against COVID-19 as the omicron variant emerged in December had nearly three times higher risk of infection than adults fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and five times higher risk than adults who had received a booster. Will you benefit from this data?

Data Consequences

Most people do not want to give up technology. But there are downsides. Call a fortune 500 company and navigate a phone tree to receive a recording of data just for you. Social media is even less social and more data. Bots scrub for keywords to deliver more data to… well, data. With automatic payment deductions from your checking account and contactless payments, you can go broke without ever seeing cash.

I entered an upscale shopping center to dine at a restaurant. On the walk back to my car, I noticed a posted public notice. The part of the sign that stood out was, “By entering this facility, you agree to our collection of your private data?” Does this refer to camera surveillance, dining habits, conversations, or something else?

Overlay 21st century artificial intelligence and your entity exists without human interaction. Some data collection is purely capitalistic. Other data saves lives. As data collection continues, what will you do to remain more sapien?

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