Since the first web page was published by Tim Berners-Lee in 1990, the internet has come to impact all levels and all facets of modern society – influencing everything from our shopping habits to how we communicate and stay up to date with current affairs. While computers were in relatively wide use before the advent of the web, the internet heralded a new connected age where machines could be used to share data, over an interconnected network.

Data is everywhere – and the amount is growing all the time

Anytime you’re online in any capacity, you’re using or creating some form of data. This never-ending string of 1s and 0s powers everything from the movies we watch to the social media photos we post. Taken as a bigger picture, the figures are truly astounding

  • It’s estimated 90% of the world’s total data was created in the last two years
  • 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are produced by humans every day
  • Throughout 2020, every individual on the planet created 1.7Mb of new data every second
  • By 2025, it’s expected humans will produce 463 exabytes of data every day 

As we continue to interact online and rely more and more on the internet as a source of information, so our use and generation of data will increase.

The growth of data-related jobs

As one might expect in an industry that has such far-reaching applications to the world in general, there has been an exponential growth in the number of career opportunities offered by data-related jobs – everything from data science to collation and analyst positions. To find out more about the opportunities of a career working with data, click here

The potential impact of the Internet of Things (IoT)

Before considering the potential impact of the Internet of Things (IoT) on data-creation, it’s perhaps worth taking a second to define what the IoT is and how it works. In very loose terms, the IoT could be described as a collection of interconnected, smart devices each with varying abilities to generate, send, receive or interpret data. Depending on the complexity of the device, it may be able to perform all four functions. 

These interconnected devices are expected to herald a new understanding of our world where common practices can be explained digitally to augment our lives. For example, a smart city of the future might use the IoT to predict and improve traffic flow by monitoring bottlenecks then adapting traffic light patterns to ease congestion in busy areas. Also, by building up this valuable information over time, city-planners could decide where road expansion might be required or where best to build a busy city school to avoid exacerbating travel issues. 

The IoT has a huge range of uses and applications in modern life – everything from manufacturing to farming to architecture. For the first time, computers and devices are being used to describe the world around us in terms of data – and to make predictions based on this information for events or outcomes that might transpire as a result of specific actions. The IoT promises a truly exciting future. 

The use of data to connect society

The best example of data connecting people can be seen in the use of the popular social networks that have exploded in popularity over the last 10-or-so years. Sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have democratized online publishing, allowing everyone to have their own small corner of the internet – regardless of programming knowledge or experience,

Social networks have also moved many of our previously offline-only experiences into the digital frame – for example, messaging and video-calling which have skyrocketed in recent years. 

However, as we continue to post more and more of our personal information online and the popularity of these platforms continues to increase, so their understanding of people also grows. There is significant and compelling evidence suggesting that social media companies “know” individuals better than their own families – which leads us nicely on to the next area data is transforming: marketing. 

Using data for highly-targeted marketing

Social media companies argue that storing and interpreting this amount of personal data allows them to tailor their services better for individuals by letting them show content specifically of interest to each user. While this is undoubtedly true, there is a very clear trade-off in a company knowing its users so well – namely that the personal data gathered can be used for highly-specific marketing and advertising campaigns. 

Take a social service like Facebook, which actively encourages its users to build their online profile with personal details like relationship status, age, school attended, favorite book/film/band, etc. By asking for details at this depth, the provider can build extremely accurate user profiles which it can then mine with complex algorithms to allow advertisers to run ad programs targeting specific demographics. 

Unlike traditional forms of advertising – for example, print or TV ads that relied mostly on guesswork to find interested users –  the internet and data-based advertising can make specific predictions of a user’s potential interest in a product or service, based on the personal data collected.

Data has transformed the world of marketing and advertising and the trend for targeted promotions will only increase as the tech giants learn more about us. Moving this a step forward, many companies like Amazon are starting to use voice equipment to further analyze user habits and interests – for example with its own Alexa service, which relies on the next great data revolution: analysis using Artificial Intelligence.

Data and Artificial Intelligence to manage our lives

While gathering data to this extent clearly affords companies a competitive advantage, it would be possible for humans to manually interpret this much information – which is where Artificial Intelligence (AI) comes in. 

Without realizing it, you likely already use AI in your everyday interactions with tech. For example, Spotify relies on AI to interpret your typical music tastes so the platform can make suggestions for similar artists or songs you might enjoy. Or perhaps you’ve used the excellent album function in Google Photos where the platform can sort images by type and even by the people featured. AI is starting to have some really useful applications both online and offline and as the tech increases in sophistication, it will come to play an even larger role in our lives – all through the gathering, analysis and interpretation of data.