Can our data be used for good? No doubt it can. But will it?
In 20-25 years' time, we will have lots of new personal health data. Like that from the brain-machine interface, which will be quite prevalent in the workspace, by then. We’ll be able to thought-control machines in the office or at home - much like super-soldiers in the military can thought-control their weapons.
We’ll probably have some hive mind or collective consciousness where our minds are connected to a server by which we can offload tasks to extra computing space, store memories, and increase our mental capacity - like downloading a new language. We’ll be using Google Mind Docs (as Dr. Ian Pearson calls it) where our brains are interconnected with each other so we can share thoughts and ideas without having to speak or write them.
Outside of cognition, the Internet of Bodies will have been long established. Where our medical data follows what the WEF calls the solidarity approach to health governance… that means sharing our biological data for the ‘common good'. Given that in the UK we have a taxpayer-funded health model, it’s going to be difficult for individuals to resist this, and they almost certainly will be pressured to make their data available to biobanks or data trusts.
This is already outlined in plenty of documents. I’d refer you to a 2002 report called ‘Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance’ issued under the Bush administration. from the US National Science Foundation and Department of Commerce. It suggests converging biotechnology, information technology, nanotechnology, and cognitive science should be available to improve the mental health and physical performance of humans - to help people live longer and healthier lives and even make our populations immune to the threat of biological warfare.
You see I’ve long held the view that Build Back Better does not so much mean build back a better environment for humans to live in, as much as it means to build back better humans to suit the environment. And that’s the agenda a lot of personal biological data collection is going to serve: the public good, the political good.
And part of the reason that’s happening is that when it comes to data we’re now preoccupied with notions of security rather than privacy (after twenty years of terror of one kind or another being pushed at us by governments of all colors). Those same governments are now looking to follow the model recently established in China.
Increasingly, the west is looking to China as the future model of an efficient, stable, well-run state, the future technological state. Well China just brought in the Data Security Law - which looks at data protection not from the perspective of the individual but from the perspective of national security - rather how data could be used for public harm
The West seems to be adopting a similar mindset. Also this year, in April, the UK Government announced the establishment of the UK Health Security Agency. It’s a department whose aim is, to all intents and purposes, to guard against infectious diseases. But it doesn’t actually define public harm...
Whatsmore, it states:
We need much deeper integration between health protection science and at-scale response capabilities, and we need to think radically about the capabilities and capacity we will need as a nation to protect our population from future threats…We need to consider how best to engage with citizens and drive behavior change in the 21st century.
Before long, you’ll be to told that based on your data and others' data (whether anonymized or not), you need to stop eating meat, stop driving a car, stop thinking certain thoughts. And with the technologies, I outlined at the start, behavior change is perfectly plausible.
And this is a worry. Because your personal data is more than just your property, It's YOU. That is a legal precedent coming out of the Riley v California case in the U.S. where the judge ruled in a case involving iPhone personal data, that data that emanates from your phone is not a property of you but personal to you.
So what to do? Well, last week lawmakers in Chile approved a law establishing the rights to personal identity, free will, and mental privacy, becoming the first country in the world to legislate on neurotechnology that can manipulate people’s minds, record people’s mental data or even modify it. One of its proponents said this is the start of a global assessment on how technology should be used for the good of humanity, adding that technology “must be at the service of people…with respect for … physical and mental integrity.”
The psychology of the self and the biology of the self is about to be joined by a third dimension, the technology of the self - I have control of the first two, but will I have control of the latter? In the emerging biosecurity state, I’d argue that I certainly need to.
So I’ll leave you with the thought: that whilst data might be the new oil, data sovereignty is the real prize.
Given as opening remarks in a debate on data ethics and research at the Battle of Ideas Festival October 2021