The Data Revolution

The data revolution will bring untold benefits to the citizens of the future. They will have unprecedented insight into how other people think, behave, and adhere to norms or deviate from them, both at home and in every society in the world. The newfound ability to find accurate and verified information online, easily, in native languages and in endless quantity, will usher in an era of critical thinking in societies around the world that before had been culturally isolated. In societies where the physical infrastructure is weak, connectivity will enable people to build businesses, engage in online commerce and interact with their government at an entirely new level.

The future will usher in an unprecedented era of choice and options. While some citizens will attempt to manage their identity by engaging in the minimum amount of virtual participation, others will find the opportunities to participate worth the risk of the exposure they incur. Citizen participation will reach an all-time high as anyone with a mobile handset and access to the Internet will be able to play a part in promoting accountability and transparency.

A shopkeeper in Addis Ababa and a precocious teenage in San Salvador will be able to disseminate information about bribes and corruption, report election irregularities, and generally hold governments to account. Commerce, education, health care, and the justice system will all become more efficient, transparent, and inclusive.

People who try to perpetuate myths about religion, culture, ethnicity, or anything else will struggle to keep their narratives afloat amid a sea of newly informed listeners. With more data, everyone gains a better frame of reference. While many worry about the phenomena of confirmation bias, when consciously or otherwise, people pay attention to sources of information that reinforce their existing worldview, as online sources of information proliferate, a recent Ohio State University study suggests that this effect is weaker than perceived, at least in the American political landscape. In fact, confirmation bias is as much about our responses to information passively received as it is about our tendency to proactively select information sources. So as millions of people come online, we have reason to be optimistic about the social changes ahead.

The New Digital Age
Reshaping the Future of People, Nations, and Business
Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen