Opinion: we should treat data as a natural resource

By Antonio Neri

Thursday May 28, 2020

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While we have made some progress towards the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we need to work even more effectively together to create and scale approaches that address global inequalities and preserve our planet’s precious resources.

The new digital frontier

Part of being laser-focused on the SDGs means bearing in mind the transformative technologies that now underpin modern civilisation and that will help drive solutions to these issues: the new digital frontier. This frontier is based on a single resource – data – and is underpinned by constant connectivity and the disruptive power of computing.

Data generation is exploding, and mainly at the edge; our phones, cars, fridges, factories, medical equipment, fields and satellites are generating unprecedented amounts of data. The promise of the new digital frontier lies in our ability to extract actionable insights from this information.

By leveraging data collected from connected platforms and devices, and by processing it at the edge, organisations can tap into critical insights that can inform quicker decisions – within digital classrooms, health centres or autonomous vehicles, for example – to make our world a better, safer place. Answers to some of society’s most pressing challenges across medicine, climate change, space and more are buried in massive amounts of data, and the convergence of 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT), high-performance computing and other emerging technologies is helping to unlock them.

Because of the power inherent in this convergence, we are poised to disrupt how we address social, economic and environmental problems. How do we rethink the way we process, manage, and protect data to improve lives, maximise resources and use less energy without sacrificing security or ethics? How can we ensure data benefits all of society in a way that is equitable and sustainable? I believe the first step is treating data like a natural resource.

Data as a natural resource

Like oil, gas and other natural resources, the extraction of data requires energy. In fact, it already consumes nearly 10% of electricity globally. As the digital frontier takes hold, we need to better address how we treat data so that we mitigate the growth of so-called data landfills.

The amount of data worldwide is expected to more than triple by 2025
The amount of data worldwide is expected to more than triple by 2025
Image: IDC Data Age 20205 report

These data landfills occur when we mismanage the explosive demand for data by using too much space, materials and energy to harness and analyse it. We must innovate transformative solutions that will allow businesses to reap the benefits of connectivity in a resource-constrained world in ways that keep data waste to a minimum.

To combat this risk, HPE is investing in research and development to develop new solutions that can compute with a fraction of the energy per calculation, without sacrificing performance. We realised that the current model of IT cannot be applied to a world where literally everything computes. We’re using too much power, space, cooling, human management and cost to efficiently power a digital world.

Data landfills also accumulate when we don’t fully extract value from data before putting it to rest. What I hear from customers across industries, governments and NGOs alike is that they need help unlocking value from all of their data to provide better results for their customers and citizens.

Convergence for good

By understanding and investing in the next digital frontier, by treating data as a natural resource and by harnessing convergence, we have the opportunity to drive progress on some of the world’s most intractable societal challenges. Actually, it’s more than an opportunity; it is an obligation to ensure that we enable technological disruption and transformation while also advancing environmental sustainability, human rights, security and equity across every aspect of our world.

The new digital frontier is here, and technological convergence is already beginning; how we adapt, govern and plan around these paradigm shifts will determine our ability to improve the world for future generations.

Antonio Neri is the president and chief executive officer of the Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

This article is curated from the World Economic Forum.

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