domingo, 28 de mayo de 2017

If Data Is the New Oil, Where’s the Spot Market?

By Scott Rosemberg

For decades, data has been the fuel that powers business. But we’re still figuring out how to use this new power source efficiently, and our economic and social arrangements have not yet adapted to the changes (The Economist). As machine-learning based artificial intelligence becomes the foundation of a new kind of economy, companies have learned to hoard data. But they haven’t figured out a convenient or standardized way to trade it. In this way, it’s not like oil at all — or maybe it’s like oil was before Standard Oil standardized it.

Data isn’t a commodity, yet. That’s because we don’t know how to turn it into fungible units, and we don’t yet know how to track fluctuations in its value depending on timing and context. But this is the kind of problem that processing power and good algorithms will probably solve over time. We’re just scratching the surface of this technology’s capabilities — think PCs in 1982 or the Web in 1994.

The challenges that aren’t going to vanish with time include: How happy are we with monopoly control over different kinds of data? And how do we establish and apportion ownership rights in data? In the U.S., the monopoly question will remain theoretical as long as Republicans control government. But that won’t be forever, and the rest of the world is already at a very different place on this issue.

One line of argument that’s sure to strengthen: the case (well made by Ben Thompson) that Facebook and other dominant platforms ought to open up and share their “social graphs,” the “who is connected to whom” network data that makes their platforms so effective. It’s easy to imagine a hundred-flowers-blooming scenario for a future built around an open-sourced Facebook network map. But Facebook will fight such an outcome to the last “like.”

The other big challenge to the development of open data markets lies in transitioning away from the grand bargain that drives today’s online business, in which individuals let big platforms use their data to target ads and get free services in return. This arrangement might well come to look less attractive to users in time. We could even end up thinking, as one economist at Microsoft Research tells The Economist, that “data is labor.” That would mean that the oil reserves of the future aren’t some kind of external treasure to be claimed; instead, they’re something each of us creates every day.

French Election: The Hack That Flopped

It was a nightmare rerun: At the last minute in France’s hotly contested presidential election last week, hackers publicly dumped a stolen trove of private emails from one candidate’s campaign. As with the dirty tricks played on the Clinton campaign in the U.S. last year, iIt sure looked like an effort to aid a right-wing candidate by sabotaging an opponent. But in France, the move failed to make a difference.

There were multiple reasons for the failure of the hack (Bloomberg): It was late, it was poorly organized, there was no smoking-gun revelation in its mountains of data, and its organizers (assumed to be Russian-backed, as The Guardian reports) mixed obviously fraudulent forgeries in with the stolen data.

But the French system also used some intelligent circuit-breakers that other countries might well study. French law dictates a media blackout on campaign messages on the day before the election. Maybe there’s something to that?

France’s strength in the face of fraudulent news may also have a simpler explanation. While France’s media world is if anything even more polarized along ideological lines than the American press, the country lacks a tabloid news culture. There’s a reason Rupert Murdoch never got a foothold there. As one French editor points out to The New York Times, “We don’t have a Fox News in France.”

The Healthcare Debate Is Also About Jobs

Obamacare was, among other things, an investment in healthcare, and it has been effective, as many investments are, at creating jobs. The healthcare industry has been the engine of employment growth over the past decade. If the Republican plan to repeal and replace it with the AHCA is passed into law, we should be concerned about the risks not only to Americans’ health but also to their jobs (The New York Times).

Critics of the Obama health law argue that its rules and requirements dampened business growth. Supporters say moving tens of millions of Americans onto health insurance is worth it. Economists often talk about healthcare as if it were an abstract good, just another kind of widget. But as The Times’ Patricia Cohen reminds us, when we make choices in this realm we can’t help couching them in moral terms. We fight over who “deserves” coverage.

Supporters of the Trump plan argue that it’s reasonable to charge sick people more for health insurance. Healthy people who have “led good lives” (as one GOP congressman put it) shouldn’t subsidize smokers and the overweight. But shared risk is the basic principle behind insurance, say AHCA’s critics. If you go too far down the rabbit-hole of who “deserves” a good deal on healthcare, it gets ridiculous. You ski, I don’t. Why should my insurance dollars pay for your broken leg? We could track every choice we make every day, every morsel we eat and every risk we take, and feed it into a health-insurance-rate matrix — but is that a world we want to inhabit?

Healthcare is not a widget. It’s a basic prerequisite for individual security in a civilized society. Even Republicans have grudgingly begun to accept this principle. The argument now is simply over how to pay for it.

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