Back in 1984 a long time ago in what feels like a galaxy far far away one of my favorite authors William Gibson published Neuromancer. It was a ground breaking novel setting the stage for the Cyberpunk generation. He’s now in his mid sixties but ten years before most of us were using email he imagines a cyberspace where data is visualized as a vast city with data its self is a currency. Twenty eight years later we aren’t quite in the data dystopia he imagines but we are certainly getting there. Cloud computing is rapidly taking on and taking down traditional desktop based computing, massive fiber networks are making distributed data as common as electricity and mobile devices are freeing up from both the desktop and the grid. We can’t quite yet ‘jack in’ and travel virtual data landscapes but with cool devices look Google Goggles on the horizon, phones which talk to us and cars which can drive themselves we aren’t that far away.
Google (as always) is in the thick of these developments with its massive investments in cloud computing and fiber, along with Amazon, Microsoft and the other usual suspects. Add to that the wild card of China emerging as a massive force in global data (China was also envisaged as a data monster by Gibson all those years ago) and we have a potent mix.
Part of the fascination I have for this sea change of data and how we relate to it is simple occupational geekery…but part is the simple joy of watching amazing power that mankind apply new tools to the old drives and vices which have always underpinned our society. If a politician slips by exposing the gelatinous underbelly of ignorance and bigotry which hides behind the smile and the grey suit he can be exposed and pilloried in a massive public forum thousands of times larger than the market square of years gone by. A few days pass and the crowd moves on to the next distraction. How we buy and what we but changes but immediate gratification, greed, lust avarice still power the choices made. If our darker angels are carrying tablets 24×7 so to is our ability to do good is also enhanced. We can already feed billions more than the most optimistic pundits ever guessed, we have the tools to bring education and a future to enormous segments of the world who would have been condemned to ignorance and an early death only decades ago.
Data, defines and drives our world, what we do with it is what will drive our happiness and the well being of our species…and it’s all happened in Mr Gibson’s lifetime.