By Mike Meyer ~ Honolulu ~ January 15, 2020
How do we manage our information? That is not a simple question, and the future of that management may be very different from what most people today think. As with almost everything, now, we are in the process of drastic changes in what we believe, value, and deal with in everyday life.
We already have a significant difference in generational attitudes toward making the personal information public. This is complicating the conflict between the future and the past that is polarizing our societies. If the battle is between history and future attitudes, we need to define those attitudes and explain why the future is different.
While we are dealing with a range of contentious problems, including the climate crisis, asset distribution, health, wellbeing, and criminal governments, all of these present themselves as information management problems. These problems are determining valid information, accessing that information, and distributing accurate information.
Managing information is very different today than what it was even fifty years ago. At the most basic level, there are vast amounts of data, far more than ever existed in human experience. The numbers are already almost incomprehensible, but these are things we need to consider constantly now.
During our history on this planet up to 2003, It is estimated people created about three exabytes of information (an ‘exabyte’ is one billion gigabytes to put this in terms of something you may recognize). In 2010, ten years ago, we were creating that much information every two days.
As of 2018, the estimated size of the global data sphere was 33 zettabytes. Note that we just jumped from exabytes to zettabytes, one of which is 1,000 exabytes or a trillion gigabytes. To put this in perspective most phones now come with about 40 gigabytes of storage.
The current estimate is that by 2025 we will have 175 zettabytes of information. If moved this to DVDs (remember those?), the stack would circle the planet 222 times. Even that simplification is challenging to imagine.
The point here is not to make you dizzy but to give a sense of what we mean when we talk about managing information in the new quantum universe. But what does this mean in terms of how we think about information?
Information is the new value system. This is the Information Age, but what that means is that our actual marker of wealth now is information. Money was a precious metal, gold, or silver, with a designated weight and purity. Modern currencies were paper certificates convertible to gold or silver.
Within the last forty years, the US dollar, Euro, and most other currencies have become fiat currencies with their value set by a government and not related to geological sources of value. That change made the dollar a token of information at an exchange rate guaranteed by the US government.
Cryptocurrencies do away with the government guarantee and hold value because of their ability to securely transfer that value digitally as part of information management systems. At least that is the intent — they have no ties to anything except the information they represent.
Increasingly ideas, possible products, and services are offered as a value that you can use fiat currency to buy as a kind of venture capital investment. These are popular crowdfunding exchanges such as Kickstarter and others. This illustrates information as value with that information becoming the primary repository of value in our emerging world.
Let’s take this a step farther. Our scientific understanding of the universe tells us that everything that exists is information. A rock is a form of information just as a planet is another much ginger form of information. In that sense, every object is information.
You may be familiar with theories of our universe being a simulation. Virtual Reality is the information used to create a simulation of reality. At some point, simulation becomes indistinguishable from reality, and that raises the tricky question of what is real?
Back down to managing our information and why we are confused. If information is now our actual store of value, that information needs to move to increase that value. We study value systems and transactions as economics, so the understanding of economics also applies to information exchanges and all information transactions.
Much of the current problem with information and and data security is caused by the general failure to understand information as our new currency. This requires a basic rethinking of how we understand value.
Just as the early growth of market economies and capitalism realized that currency buried in the back yard did not grow, but currency used in circulation increased wealth, we have the same situation now with information. And we are roughly at the same place, approximately two hundred years ago, when the broad population began to understand that keeping your savings in your mattress (or in vault in your castle) was not as good as investing it and putting it in circulation.
This change in attitude dates to David Ricardo, the developer of the Labor Theory of Value that identified labor as the source of value. Putting things to ‘work’ can increase value while keeping them inactive risks loss over time from inflation if nothing else. While portions of Ricardo’s work were either negated or much revised, the basics were valid. For our purposes, information hidden is of limited potential value.
In the early stages of capitalism, the value was in resources or controlled access to those resources. The assumption was to keep Information hidden to prevent others from gaining access to the benefit of those resources. But with information as value, it must be used and circulated to increase wealth. The problem is that very much as indigenous people operating on a different economic model of communal ownership did not recognize their land, for instance, as value, they could be easily defrauded by an outside group who put their value in private ownership of property.
Until very recently, our information was not an asset, so there was little thought to giving it away. We now understand that tracking and transactional records are of great value. Still, we had given the control of that information away to the companies who developed the systems for gathering, storing, and monetizing that information. Now we need to get the rights back, not to bury or hide it, but to put it to work for us in the new information economic model.
As mentioned above, an essential aspect of social polarization in postmodern societies is the difference in the perceived value of information and its uses by different generations. Complexity is a constant in our world, so precisely how these attitudes vary across cultures and societies is a factor.
In general, the younger generations, particularly millennials, Gen Z, and some of Gen X, are more naturally open to social media and public presentation of themselves. They use information transactionally. They have also learned, in many cases, what can happen as others misuse their data. The number of social problems defined by misusing information, faking it, or using it as a weapon is a common point of discussion with a growing vocabulary of its own.
This vocabulary is mostly alien to older generations who see the revealing of personal information as frightening. Boomers are about secrecy; this is almost all hopeless as the lack of technical knowledge means that most Boomer information has been captured and used for two decades already. Because of this fixation, we have the tremendous levels of secrecy and classified information that have corrupted governments.
The evolution of a new order based on personal information as an asset will recognize that information is wealth and power in this age. Information is not buried in the ground or manufactured in costly factories but made by people as they live. The ownership of that information must be protected, but its value is in its use to build databases that allow algorithm development of new services and new knowledge.
The need for information security is not, as many people seem to think, hiding who were are from public knowledge, even if that were possible. There are and must be rights of privacy, but we no longer live in an anonymous world, in fact, quite the opposite. Our intelligent systems are coming to know us intimately by providing enhanced personal services. Public recognition and public knowledge of each of us is part of or life now, and there are great benefits to having that information known by intelligent systems. General tracking of our health and safety is a reasonable trade, with robust information rights, for aggregate contributions to our planetary data sphere.
The structural problems of capital hoarding will change to information assets naturally originating from all sentient beings. A lifetime of personal data is a great asset, and we all will have that as the foundation of our wealth. Building ways to recognize and use those assets will correct many of our current problems in wealth distribution.