SOCIETY | Sep 21, 2016

How data has changed companies, administrations and citizens

We are facing a radical developmental change, comparable to other major transformations that have occurred over recent decades

One of the principal and significant consequences of the pervasive spread of digital technologies is the exponential multiplication of the amount of information and data that is created and made available to businesses, administrations, individual citizens and users. We are facing a radical developmental change, comparable to other major transformations that have occurred over recent decades:

  • the ’70s were characterized by the development of large computer systems (mainframes) and programming techniques
  • the 80s saw the development of departmental server technologies and personal computers. Processing systems have gradually moved from the few, large central calculation centers to being housed within companies and on individuals’ desks
  • the ’90s were marked by the advent of the Internet, i.e. a global communication system that has radically changed the economic, social and political dynamics of our planet
  • The 2000s have seen the emergence of personal and mobile devices (sensors, smartphones, tablets, …), which enable every individual to be constantly connected to an intense digital experience with the Internet and the rest of the world.

This decade can be broadly characterized as the information era: every human activity has been digitized (or is in the process of digitization) and can therefore produce data and information on people’s physical, economic and entrepreneurial behavior, social phenomena or demographic trends. The GapMinder site (created by Hans Gosling) is emblematic in this regard in that it allows the study of demographic, social and economic phenomena via the analysis and “intelligent” visualization of large quantities of data. In general we are now able to reread and reinterpret every aspect of our lives through the information that we gather from moment to moment in every one of the remotest corners of our planet.

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But what are the specific changes and fields of activity that characterize this revolution?

The Internet of Things

The miniaturization of electronics and pervasive, mobile, and “ubiquitous” connection capabilities make it possible to insert “intelligence” and data processing capabilities into any product or element of the environment. Products such as cars or domestic appliances are now centered on digital components. Every part of our environment can be “enriched” to collect data and information on natural phenomena (e.g. landslides, climatic variations, natural phenomena) both behavioral and social phenomena (such as traffic, people flows in urban regions, safety levels and community monitoring). Every sphere of today’s world can be digitized and, as such, become an almost unlimited source of data and information.

Social Networks

Social networks have become the main instrument of communication and socialization for billions of people. Through them we all converse, exchange information, communicate tastes, choices and purchasing decisions. It is therefore quite clear that social networks are an extraordinary source of information and generate immense amounts of data.

Internet, the Web, e-Commerce, Apps

More generally, the Internet, telecommunications networks and the web (with all its services such as research or e-commerce), constitute an unlimited source of information and data. They can be divided into information that is published to be easily viewed by the public and information that is generated by each of us through surfing the Internet, our activities on different sites (in particular purchases) or the use we make of apps available on mobile devices.

Public and “Open” Data

Innumerable public and private companies make large amounts of information available to be freely used by citizens and businesses. This is information relating to various aspects of our daily lives such as regional, national data and related economic activities, information on public services, data on demographic or environmental phenomena, info-mobility and transport data.

In general, we live in a world increasingly populated by “intelligent” objects and “connected” individuals who continuously generate, exchange and process massive amounts of data and information.

Alfonso Fuggetta