Dawn in the Anthropocene, an Allegory on The Evolution of Data

  • Climate change is a daunting topic. From large datasets, we know that we are losing the equivalent of 40 football fields of tree cover each minute, as we scramble to improve our wholly inaccurate “Big Data” on total carbon emissions, the inadequacy of which now threatens the global response. Small data is important as well. In Colombia, the government has been making all climate data available and usable to small rice farmers since 2014, enabling them to change planting, fertilization, and harvest times that have increased yields amid steadily hotter average temperatures. “Anecdotes about how early you could go sledding as a child vs. today are not going to help us understand what actions we can take,” Dean said. “We need real data for that.”
  • Data has never played a more important role in public policy than it has in the COVID-19 crisis. The modeling by Johns Hopkins University of the pandemic, which we support with our open data community, is one dramatic example of data’s utility. Another is the development of the mRNA vaccines that are nothing less than a miracle — themselves a massive, global data project. So far, that mobilization has yielded more than 130 mRNA candidate vaccines into the pipeline beyond the two which we are all now familiar, those of Moderna and Pfizer.
  • On the steady rise of toxic politics, Dean argued that if we’d been paying attention to the data in the second place showing of the late Jörg Haider in Austria’s 1999 parliamentary election, or the success just three years later in the Netherlands of lawmaker Geert Wilders, we would have been better prepared for the likes of Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Jair Bolsonaro or so many others. We must, Dean told me, do a better job of tracking the canaries in the world’s political coal mines. And it’s all about data.
  • How do we feed more and more hungry people with less and less arable land? Dean quickly mentioned a number of projects with which he’s familiar: South African fishers using weather, catch and cost data are improving their efficiency and incomes; New Hampshire farmers are using cheap sensors to manage soil moisture; UK farmers use satellite data to minimize pesticide use; and small farmers in Kenya are using smartphones as tools to manage planting data and boost incomes. Those are just a few.

From Clay Tablets to Double-Entry Bookkeeping to the ‘Cloud’

The first known commercial data, records of animal sales and grain harvests, were recorded as cuneiform by the Sumerians in ancient Mesopotamia on clay tablets around 3000 BCE. Fast forward 4,500 years and data became a true utility in the late 15th century with the invention in Florence of double-entry bookkeeping. Recording, storing, and managing data in this new fashion provided the clarity that allowed commerce to flourish and ushered in the Renaissance. The Battle of Waterloo in 1815 revealed an early example of what we today call “prescriptive data.” Word of Napoleon’s defeat was rushed back to London by secret carrier pigeon, allowing the House of Rothschild to use the exclusive, bird-borne data to make a killing on British government bonds.

How the ‘Metaverse’ Lacks Both a Brain and Nervous System

Our unicellular, protozoan databases have evolved into a kind of multicellular, metazoan means of data storage. But this ecosystem, though fast evolving in complexity and diversity, is still primitive and disconnected. It is characterized by hoarding, isolation, and fragmentation. Our much vaunted realm of data, the “metaverse” as it were, still lacks a nervous system. And equally important, it lacks a brain.

Cognition is the Next frontier and Will Define our New Data-Driven Reality

For humans, cognition is, of course, the acquisition of knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses. Data enables the digital equivalent — within and between enterprises. At the end of the day, what we provide our enterprise customers and community members is simply a new, innovative form of cognition — corporate cognition for our enterprise customers, and collaborative cognition for our 1.5 million-plus community members who use our platform to confront the ills note at the outset of climate change, poverty, COVID-19, and more.

Just Why the CEO’s Smile with the Grin of the Poker Player

“The CEO’s sit and listen to my talks and smile,” writes Scott Galloway, the author who explores this neglect in The Four, a marvelous book on the titans of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. “It’s the smile of poker players holding aces. And every one of those aces is data. In the last decade, the world’s most important companies have become experts in data — its capture, its analytics, and its use.”

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Brett A. Hurt

Brett A. Hurt

CEO and Co-founder, data.world; Co-owner, Hurt Family Investments; Founder, Bazaarvoice and Coremetrics; Henry Crown Fellow; TEDster; Dad + Husband