*Interview published originally in ABC newspaper (in Spanish)
Carme Artigas stands out in the halls of the futuristic Singapore Convention Centre, which is hosting the Strata Data Conference, presented by O’Reilly and Cloudera, global leaders in Big Data and Artificial Intelligence. Among rows of hoodies and suits, the woman who pioneered the introduction of Big Data in Spain, and one of the foremost global experts in managing quantities of data, offers a keynote master class in which she challenges governments to build intelligent societies based on intelligent cities. After Copenhagen, Singapore is the second country in the world in applying Big Data in order to optimise services for its citizens.
Artigas is co-founder of Synergic Partners, the company that designed the first Big Data architecture in Spain, and she holds management positions at many public and private institutions. She is a strong supporter of the transformative power of technology at the economic and social level, as well as of the talent and creative capacity of individuals. It is not surprising then that her goal now is to once again place people at the centre of what she calls the “digital reinvention” of society.
The EU estimates that the value of the economy based on Big Data could reach 4.7% in 2020. Despite its positive impact, why does macrodata management continue to be an unknown for the majority of the population and European governments?
The introduction of Big Data has generated a digital reinvention of all business models and all sectors, which has changed the economy completely, the effects of which are just now being seen by large companies.
The problem is, mainly in Spain, the small and medium-sized enterprises, which are at the greatest risk of falling into the digital mega-divide. Therefore, helping SMEs with quick and effective solutions must be our main focus. Similarly, we must fight against the cultural gap that hurts large companies with inherited decision systems, which are more focused on personal leadership than on objective data. To counteract this, a digital profile must be incorporated into the Boards of Directors, because companies either transform or die.
Spain is still far behind other countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and Singapore. What are we missing in order to accelerate in the digital race, analytics, business people that create Big Data benefits, or governments that promote a technological culture?
It is expected that half of all traditional professional profiles will have disappeared by 2040. Having said that, we are in a world that lacks of people.
In Spain, in 2006, we created a data scientists profession that did not exist at the time. The level of talent in our country is very high, we are the eighth world power in terms of people. What concerns me is the creation of a transversal foundation of new knowledge that is introduced starting in primary school, with a special focus on critical thinking, which will undoubtedly be the most demanded skill in the future. The children of today are studying for professions that do not exist and a State Treaty for education is urgently needed. We are facing a change of era and a new State social pact is needed regarding its relationship with its citizens to prevent certain sectors from being excluded.
“Critical thinking in light of digital propaganda”
What is Big Data’s influence over the transformation of power relationships between countries?
Digitisation is changing not only the strategies of governments and their relationships with citizens internally, but also geopolitically. Today, all countries are producers and consumers and those who win are, without a doubt, those who know how to attract talent and produce new leaders with a transformational vision that inspires citizens. We need courageous ideas, from both businesses and governments.
Digitisation has revolutionised all sectors, from finance to medicine, transport and security. Where lies freedom of the individual and their data protection?
Big Data goes after large patterns, not personal identities. Individual protection is key. It’s about generating a relationship of trust between companies and consumers. In the European Union, there is extensive regulation in this regard, and in countries with other standards for data protection, the situation is changing, if not by legal means, then due to social pressure.
Despite these advances, it has not been possible to prevent digital interference in the form of data hacking in certain recent electoral processes.
Each and every technological change entails a new risk. That said, there has always been propaganda, but in light of attempted manipulation, such as in the case of the “fake news” that has managed to influence some countries, the answer is critical thinking. However, these risks cannot curb development because the gains are greater.
What is the future of Big Data?
Our challenge is to place people at the centre again. We have to “human-ify” technology. As anthropologist Amber Chase states, “Artificial Intelligence will make us more human”. There is no need to replace people, but rather help enhance their abilities. Perhaps the paradox is that once we can delegate objective decision-making to a robot, what will make us more human is the irrational, the decisions we make based on passion, imagination, strategic thinking..., that which a machine will never be able to do.
How can we transfer ethical values to Big Data?
There is a debate in the industry concerning how to incorporate ethics into algorithms. The Obama Administration was a pioneer in this area, and companies are talking about creating ethics committees. We have to reverse the order of priorities. Before, technology was first, then society, and finally regulation. Regulation should come first now. But it is a societal, and not just technological, debate, and a great deal of education is needed to place value on data.