Friday, September 18, 2015

WWGD - What Will Google Do?

Note: These are my personal views and not those of my employer, Tata Consultancy Services

I just read this article about Google in insurance. The key idea seems to be that Google is gathering, organizing and processing data about the real world which gives it more competitive advantage over others and might set it up as THE disruptive new insurer on the block. I have'nt read carefully what people in other industries are saying about WWGD to disrupt their industries, but there is every possibility that other industries are also worried about this information industry behemoth might steal their lunch.

In my view, data is a relatively new kind of property. Who gathers, organizes and processes what data has evolved over time in human civilization. The rules about ownership of intellectual property like data are also relatively new. I suspect that these rules designed for a previous state-of-the-world are increasing not well suited to humanity as it is evolving. I suspect that the tools by which humans and multi-human-units generate, gather, organize and process their respective data while respecting the rights of such humans and multi-human-units over their data are currently primitive. Blockchain technology provides a direction for the IT infrastructure of humanity to evolve from this primitive stage to a better situation. The main thing that will stop if this happens is that the wild west situation of humans and multi-human-units (e.g. Google) capturing/gathering data about other humans and multi-human units, organizing and processing it to derive competitive advantage over others will stop. This kind of technological destination might emerge through bottom-up political pressure applied by the 99% against the 1% (e.g. Google case in EU court), or it might evolve through the 1% (a benevolent? part of it like the Blockchain innovators) facilitating incremental innovations each of each reaches a bigger segment of humanity till the entire humanity is covered.

But what would such a destination look like. Each human will own his/her data, each multi-human-unit (firms, communities, states) would own their data. Data generated during interactions between parties will be regulated by laws evolving from current data privacy laws existing/evolving in multiple geographies to prevent random third-parties from acquiring data about humans and multi-human-units, organizing it and processing it unless explicitly sanctioned by a clear chain from the respective owners in a transparent manner. Today too, much of these legal constructs exists, but our IT is not yet evolved to handle the natural language based laws and related contracts smoothly. The electronic contracts of Blockchain technology provides a direction for reorganizing our laws and contracts to be less ambigious and ensure contract certainty.

Not many people seem to have grasped the situation in its comprehensive breadth and depth. As I have said multiple times, humanity is like a man sitting on a fierce tiger called technology and the tiger is running away into a deep and dense jungle. I say this, because while the above utopia painted by me avoids the problems of WWGD, we just do not know what problems automation, cyber-security and AI will cause in a much more electronic process based human and social life. I know that "trust" will be THE big problem, much more than it already is and it is my firm opinion that humanity should never fully automate itself i.e. the primary basis for trust should remain between humans and trust between human and system as well as system and system should be secondary/tertiary. I intuitively know this should be the case, but do not yet know explicitly why.


Pratap Tambay