Article By Forbes: Gina Clarke
Since 1990 and the creation of the modern internet you’ve probably heard the phrase “robots will take over the world” once or twice.
That’s because, in the coming transformation of the global economy, job losses will be inevitable.
That eventuality demands some forward-thinking solutions to head off a potential crisis in the making. The good news is that there may be a way for the very technologies at the heart of the looming problem to provide a solution.
The pathway comes by using their own data as a new currency, and in granting users the ability to monetize it.
The insecurity of redundancy
While it may be true that the latest technological advancements will prove to be a net gain to society, it is also a near-certainty that it won’t happen without some significant disruption to a large segment of the global population. According to an estimate by McKinsey Global Institute, more than 800 million workers worldwide could lose their jobs to automation by 2030 alone. Even if some of those losses are offset by retraining and the expansion of new-economy jobs, that still represents almost one-quarter of the global workforce facing the very real prospect of unemployment.
At the same time, however, much of the growth in artificial intelligence and automation technology is being fed by an exponential rise in the quantity and variety of data being generated through interactions with it. That means the very same workers who find their livelihoods most at risk are also consumers who provide some of the world’s largest companies with the data they need to grow and profit. Companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon make billions of dollars in profits every year by leveraging all of the data created by their users. From the perspective of the users, that’s an awful lot of money they’re giving away for free yet that is where the key to solving the coming economic displacement may lie.
Data ownership changes
Up until now, the aforementioned companies have had what amounts to free rein over any user data they collected. From a legal point of view, there had been no framework in any of the developed economies that addressed ownership of user-generated data, leaving it up to the auspices of whoever collected the data in the first place. In May of 2018, however, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) started to change that for the first time. The law, among other things, guarantees users the right to data portability and the right to be forgotten.
The specifics of the GDPR don’t go as far as to declare data ownership but does give all European citizens exclusive control over any data they generate online. That means, for instance, that users now have the agency to prevent any service they choose from profiting on their data by demanding it be turned over in its entirety and purged from the service’s systems. The problem for users, at this point, is what they can do with their data now that they control it. That’s where another piece of recent technology – the blockchain – comes in to play.
A secure global data marketplace
Data on its own isn’t intrinsically valuable. The sole reason that today’s biggest companies can derive so much value from it is really all about scale. For example, a company like Google uses much of the data they collect to operate the world’s largest advertising platform. The data they collect allows for meaningful and specific ad targeting, for which advertisers pay a hefty sum. An individual, however, couldn’t deliver such valuable data on their own; they’d need to pool their data with others to do so. Up until now, building an independent data marketplace of the scale that would be required to manage all user data everywhere on Earth would have been impossible. Then came the blockchain.
That’s owing to the fact that it lends itself well to a wide variety of data storage and authentication tasks. As it turns out, it’s the exact kind of technology one would need to build a secure global data marketplace that would allow individual users to monetize their data. The only technical hurdle to doing so is the fact that blockchain applications don’t tend to scale well, and would have difficulty keeping up with the trillions of transactions such a marketplace would entail.
Efforts to overcome the transaction limit
The reason that traditional blockchain technology has problems scaling has to do with the fact that each transaction must be verified by every node connected to the system. That takes a huge amount of computing power and time and adding additional power to the system simply exacerbates the problem. It also tends to drive up the cost of each transaction, as all of that distributed computing power costs money to operate and maintain.
Revisions to the original blockchain concept have sought to overcome that issue in several ways. One method, employed by the Lightning network, allows groups of users to make transactions between themselves before eventually writing that data back to the main blockchain. Another, devised by Zilliqa, relies on a technique known as sharding, which splits the data required to perform a transaction among a smaller amount of nodes before writing the complete set of data back to the main blockchain. Both methods perform faster than the original blockchain implementation but still suffer from a bottleneck when completed transactions are recorded for posterity in the main blockchain.
Solving the bottleneck
One new idea from companies such as Harmony is taking the idea of sharding to another level, by involving only the nodes necessary to complete a transaction from start to finish. They call the method deep sharding because it splits all of the data required to process and record each transaction among whichever nodes are relevant to that transaction. That approach solves the bottleneck that plagues most other blockchain systems and enables multiple simultaneous transactions to occur at once with almost no wait time for completion. Scalability is now no longer such a problem. So, where could this take us?
A crypto-backed universal basic income
If every person worldwide had the ability to monetize their own data through a blockchain-based data marketplace, it would become a self-funding equivalent of a true global universal basic income system. In one fell swoop, the problem of worker displacement and economic insecurity that’s being created by automation and AI would be solved, allowing further progress without the kind of upheaval that could destabilize the global economy.
Instead of large corporations, instead everyone in the world would have the exclusive right to their own data to do with as they wish. After that happens, it wouldn’t take much more effort to create a blockchain-based global data market to extend universal basic income to all. Fanciful? Maybe. But possible? Absolutely.