Season 4, Post 9: Live from Big Data and AI World
Conferences are back. After a two year COVID-inflicted hiatus, not only is the Mobile World Congress (the biggest event in the telecoms industry) underway in Barcelona this week, but Big Data & AI World returned to London’s ExCel centre. Your author braved the crowds and intermittent strikes on the subway network to get a sense of what’s hot in tech.
Perhaps the most notable change relative to the pre-pandemic era is that there was a much greater sense of pragmatic realism at the event and substantially less hype. The mindset seems to have shifted away from bold, big picture projections and more towards how can we solve problems and, at the same time, make the world a better place. There was a distinct emphasis on the importance of cybersecurity – inevitably a hot topic given current geopolitical events – and how the whole industry was suffering from a shortage of trained cyber professionals. In the more mundane sphere of data centres, there was a strong focus on green initiatives; how these integral parts of the technology ecosystem could reduce their carbon footprints, for example, through introducing more efficient cooling solutions.
Among the most impressive keynote speeches we attended, the two that stood out highlighted the importance of data from very different perspectives. First up was Ming Tang, Chief Data Officer for the NHS, the UK’s health service. She highlighted how the pandemic had been a “catalyst for change” across the organisation. Data it collected had to be shared across multiple government departments in order to aid decision making. Given the urgency of the situation, the NHS was forced to respond through innovation rapidly. The deployment of machine learning solutions in particular was embraced. The lasting legacy is that “everyone has become more digitally enabled” and the NHS is now using more than 120 data dashboards in order to coordinate resources across the organisation more efficiently than previously.
By far and away the best-attended presentation (for obvious reasons) was that entitled “Data, Geopolitics and the Governance of Cyberspace.” Professor Dame Wendy Hall of the University of Southampton reminded the audience that the open protocols upon which the Internet was founded constitute both its blessing and its curse. Put another way, free and ungoverned access to information has delivered clear benefits even if the system is inherently open to abuse, as is unfortunately being demonstrated currently. The “Moscow spoiler model” of the Internet, as described by Dame Wendy is explicitly based on disinformation. While the democratic world has much to fear from this, the bigger concern – that we arguably ignore at our peril – is the role China may play in shaping the Internet’s future over the next 20-30 years. This matters since most future adopters (i.e. those that do not already have access) will likely come from rural China as well as regions of Africa where China is currently increasing its influence.
Our conclusion: the data deluge is showing no signs of slowing. However, data have no value unless stored, secured and analysed appropriately.
3 March 2022
The above does not constitute investment advice and is the sole opinion of the author at the time of publication. Past performance is no guide to future performance and the value of investments and income from them can fall as well as rise.
Photos taken by the author.
Alex Gunz, Fund Manager
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