Aggregate data and decision making are being hoarded by a few technology companies with powerful data infrastructure. Does it have to be this way? Or could we create a future in which this data infrastructure is available for use by anyone in the world?
Since the early days of modern computing, science-fiction authors and other visionaries have been fantasizing about a database that could contain all of the world’s knowledge. This idea is now moving out of the realm of fantasy. A small number of technology companies are engaged in serious efforts to build databases that really will contain much of human knowledge. Facebook, for example, has mapped out the social connections among more than a billion people, and Google aspires to digitize all the books in the world.
It has become profitable to build a database containing the entire world’s knowledge. The few for-profit companies that own the data and the tools to mine it – the data infrastructure – possess great power to understand and predict the world. But could we create a similarly powerful public data infrastructure, a Big Data for the masses, that anyone in the world could access?