After a 6.0 earthquake hit Napa Valley the fitness tracking company Jawbone released an interesting piece of user data. They found 93 percent of people in the immediate area wearing a Jawbone UP were awake when the quake hit but there was relatively little response from people living over 75 miles away. From Jawbone:
This is a fascinating, although mostly useless, compilation of data but it does draw attention to something that is going to get dramatically more important in the coming years.
The number of connected devices with sensors has been growing at an exponential rate. They are constantly getting cheaper and more accurate. This gives people access to a vast quantity of data, and a truly unprecedented insight into the lives of individuals and the collective behavior of communities. The already impressive amount of data out there now is only going to be a tiny fraction of what it will be in a generation. Every single movement, action, and your physiological response to them could soon be recorded.
The type of data can be used to significantly advance the public good, like redesigning streets to reduce accidents and deaths. Or for relatively bland for-profit motives, like determining the best location for a new store.
It can also easily be used for extremely nefarious ends by governments or companies. The insight which could soon be gained makes the monitoring done by Orwell’s Big Brother seem childish by comparison — a truly mythic level near omniscience.
Control and regulation of all this data could easily end up the biggest political and economic issue of the 21st century.