Is Big Data Making Us Digital Entitities?


Are we human beings having a digital experience? Or digital beings having a human experience?
If that sounds like a pseudo-philosophical question, it isn’t. A slew of professionals – in marketing, B2C sales, advertising, social media mapping, data science and even some governments – view us as digital entities that can be influenced on a digital plane.
What exactly is a digital entity? Our digital identity or persona is one that’s collated from our social presence – on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, Instagram, et al. It’s a unique digital identifier, like an IP address on a network, or a MAC address on our laptop. It identifies us as individual entities, it classifies us by our online behavior, and it facilitates digital communication with us in a specific time, place or environment.
We leave digital footprints on the websites we visit, the locations we frequent, and the devices we use. These footprints are fertile ground for “digital enterprises” to find us and influence our behavior.
IDC calls these the “See-All, Know-All Organizations”. They are able to see and sense everything and everyone connected to the Internet. The “seeing” comes from sensing our digital behavior, our physical location and the “likes” that punctuate our digital presence. The “knowing” comes from big data and the rapid rise of IoT (Internet of Things). The rapid growth in big data analytics is creating a divide between the organizations that “know” and ones that don’t. Another divide is forming between organizations that are digitally-savvy and ones that aren’t.
A Gartner global survey notes that 32% of leaders at organizations with $250 million or more in annual revenue claim to have a digitally-savvy business – up from 22% in the same survey last year. Digitally-savvy business leaders told Gartner they anticipate improvements in customer experience (86%), IT organization (86%), workforce productivity (84%) and sales (83%).
Is all this bad for you? Not necessarily. You may get targeted ads or be inadvertently profiled based on your buying behavior or the friends you keep in touch with digitally. That’s one reason that governments are enacting laws to protect your privacy.
In the US, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) allows you to opt out of receiving unsolicited mail, email and phone calls. The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) bans text messages sent to a mobile phone using an autodialer unless you opted-in to receive – or the message was sent for emergency purposes. This ban applies even if your mobile number is not on the national Do-Not-Call list.
In Singapore, a comprehensive PDPA (Personal Data Protection Act) came into effect in July 2014. The government defines “personal data” as any data – whether true or not – about an individual who can be identified from that data; or from any other information to which an organization has access. Individuals who breach PDPA can be fined S$10,000; organizations can be fined up to S$100,000. Singapore wants to be the world’s first smart nation. Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative is led from the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) itself.
“We’re putting in place infrastructure, policies, ecosystem and capabilities to enable a Smart Nation,” the PMO says. “We’re encouraging a culture of experimentation and building, and working with citizens and companies to co-create solutions. These could range from innovations in how we travel, where we live, our daily transactions, how we support the lifelong needs of our citizens.”
The differentiator is IoT. IDC estimates that by 2020, there will be 212 billion “things” connected on the Internet. To address this complexity, Intel, Dell, Amtel, Broadcom, Samsung and Wind River jointly set up the OIC (Open Interconnect Consortium) in July 2014. More importantly, the specifications will be open-sourced. (Disclaimer:#Iwork4Dell)
All of which makes us more like digital entities that can be influenced on our digital environments. Which brings us back to the original question: Are we human beings having a digital experience? Or digital beings having a human experience? Or both at the same time? That’s possible too.
In quantum mechanics, the 2012 Nobel Prize in physics was won by Serge Haroche and David Wineland for proving that electrons can exist in two places simultaneously. Big data is taking a leaf from quantum physics and proving that you and I can also exist in two planes – physical and digital – at the same time.

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