THE AGE OF DATA: THE ERA OF HOMO DIGITUS

Evelyn de Souza

The Age of Data

In our digital era data deluge – soaring amounts of data, is an overriding feature. That’s why it’s fitting to focus on the concept of Homo Digitus, which I first learned about about in“The creative destruction of medicine: How the digital revolution will create better health care,” by Eric Topol, and more recently highlighted as a Gigaom conference theme.  In Topol’s vision there is a new human species, Homo digitus that benefits from the data deluge brought about by the convergence of the digital and physical world.  They track sleep quality with brain-wave headbands, monitor vital signs with wrist transceivers and use cell phones for self-diagnosis amongst other things, realizing the opportunity for a much more evolved life.

Data is the New Food

Each evolution of the human species delivers on the promise of a smarter human far more capable than the species that preceded it.  In earlier species humankind looked for new ways to improve hunting and gathering of food and in some parts of the world, such was their mastery that they even created an oversupply of certain foods. Homo Digitus sees data as the new food and you’d be challenged to find any facet of life that has not been revolutionized by data deluge – there are a great many varying estimates, on how much data is created every year but everywhere you look volumes of data are soaring.

Mostly, it’s been for the better good of humankind.  With new data points we’ve experienced great transformation in the quality of services, business process and everyday living.  We’ve come to have a great reliance on the benefits that data deluge brings.  If you consider how often an individual might use map services to estimate a commute, or an app to compare shopping prices, and then for business the productivity and economic gains from using data points to estimate customer preferences, improve customer service and speed business delivery times.

Data Exploitation

Conversely, data is also exploited and misused in ways that leaves humankind fragile and that puts businesses at great risk.  Data breaches, privacy infringements, identity and data theft, and unauthorized data access and changes abound.   Every day we read of some new exploit, more egregious than the previous where criminals have found a new way to extract data and then profit from the sale of that data.

There are also businesses who have started to use data from individuals in a way that is not always very transparent. That’s stating it in very simplistic terms.  However, as great a risk might be posed to businesses from well-intentioned individuals, who might accidentally misuse or overshare data.  It’s only natural considering that for many individuals digitization occurred midway during their lifespan and dealing with the data deluge is not yet a completely natural phenomenon.  Also, our lives are increasingly fast paced, workplaces are more pressurized and the convergence between home and work narrower, that workers are prone to accidentally misusing data.  For example, it’s very easy to accidentally drag and drop a file into an email and send as an attachment.

Controlling the Data Deluge to Maximize on Homo Digitus

What’s needed is a way that allows Homo Digitus to benefit from the positive effects of data deluge but with the safety net that data flows are being directed to only those authorized to have access.  In an enterprise being able to proactively determine data flows and then implement additional safeguards based on a comprehensive set attributes ranging from geolocation, network, device down to multiple facets of identity will be critical, given the sophistication of data exploitation.  Information security tools have traditionally been associated with impeding progress.  Newer solutions need to be easy to implement and policy attributes stated in a way which are business-consumable.   Homo Digitus is still in the process of being shaped.  Now is the time to ensure that data deluge does not become the destroyer of this species and remains the positive enabler.

By Evelyn de Souza

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