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Is big data more like oil or sunshine?

Metaphors aside, big data is the key to AI development

We’ve all heard the comparison, perhaps too often, but here it is: big data is the new oil that business needs to run. But what exactly does that mean? IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, speaking to CNBC during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, said she has been using the phrase for about seven years and clarified the exact meaning as it relates to the development of artificial intelligence.

“I think the real point to that metaphor,” Rometty said, “is value goes to those that actually refine it, not to those that just hold it. Just like with countries; poor countries have oil.”

As it relates to AI, “Having a lot of data for the current state of AI is useful. But there’s more and more AI innovation being done that learns with less data. This idea that our technologies are going to learn with less data…is going to make a big difference here. All that said, we did a calculation that the world only collects less than 1% of the data it actually gives off. So there is a ton more out there. It’s not collected and it’s not used.”

Another view came from Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat. “Data is actually more like sunlight than it is like oil because it is actually unlimited,” she said during a panel discussion in Davos. “It can be applied to multiple applications at one time. We keep using it and regenerating.”

Big data needs big hybrid clouds

As businesses look to collect, analyze and monetize all of this data, where does it live? Rometty said IBM customers “want to move to the cloud but economically, and even what makes sense, some of it I’ll leave it just as it is on my premise, some I want my own private cloud right on my premise and the rest I’ll put in a public cloud.”

And amid these machinations, companies have to keep data privacy at the forefront and policymakers need to resist the urge to over-regulate.

“We’re 108 years old and we’ve always lived by that view—that we exist because clients trust us with data. I think every company now has to do that. If you’re going to benefit from it, you have to live by those rules.”

She continued: “Every government right now, the issue is privacy of consumer data. Every government is itching to regulate. I think the risk we all have is there’s a great overreaction and the casualty is the whole digital economy.”

 

 

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