Catalysed by the recent hive of activity surrounding General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a few strands of thought from the past and present have come together in my mind to extrapolate a view on how our personal information might be managed in the far future. On the one hand, this might be science fiction, on the other, it might become science fact.
What are our most important personal assets? For ourselves: possibly good health, good personal relationships and enough money to live comfortably. If you have all three then life is fine. For commercial businesses, Government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), our most important personal asset is our information about ourselves that we give to them. This is becoming increasingly valuable as we move towards an era of sophisticated information analytics driven by artificial intelligence engines that are able to make quite accurate predictions about us. Organisations are learning our product purchase preferences, they are able to predict our future health issues, credit rate us and so on.
So, to third parties, our personal information is our most valuable asset and yet many of us hand it over and spread it around without giving it a second thought. Have you counted the number of Government departments, businesses and NGOs that are holding some of your information? I have not yet done this for myself but I would guess they certainly number in the hundreds, if not the thousands.
Why are we handing over our most valuable asset to so many organisations? We certainly don’t do this with our money. This is held reasonably securely in banks. In fact, you could argue that the money does not physically exist, it is just information held in a data store. If our money is held in a bank’s data store, why not our information; all our information, every piece, held securely and with access given only to those bits we want to share? Note: only access is given, third party organisations are no longer allowed to hold our information. Holding personal information would be outlawed except in special circumstances, national security as an example.
If the Information Banks were doing a proper job of security, our information could not be stolen, hacked, misused or abused. It would be under our complete control. GDPR and all similar data protection legislation would no longer be needed. Information updates would be done in one place. When you last changed address, how many organisations did you need to inform? In my scenario, you would just make the single update within your Information Bank Account.
How would your information be disseminated? That is a good question. One possibility would be to give organisations permission which could be manually revoked at any time or automatically revoked after a defined period. I would envisage your information being organised into data-sets, so medical NGOs could be given access to your health information, retailers could be permitted to access your shopping profile.
However, I am reminded of a concept that I presented at World Travel Market as far back as 1996. At the time, a new organisation had just been founded, Autonomy. It was espousing the idea of Intelligent Software Agents. (HP bought 87% of Autonomy shares in 2011, valuing the company at $11.7 billion. Mike Lynch, one of Autonomy’s founders, earned £500 million from that deal. Big money in those days!)
My presentation envisaged a voice controlled, intelligent software travel agent. You would tell the agent to where and when you wanted to fly and it would roam the Internet, doing all the hard work, finding you the best fare. It would tell you what it had found and you would instruct it to make the purchase. Natural language processing was in its infancy then but voice seemed the natural interface to use to communicate with your Agent.
This neatly ties in with the concept of an Information Bank. The salient point is that the intelligent agent is yours, acting on your behalf. It would be your Personal Agent so there would be no problem giving it access to all your data held in the bank. It could make good use of this to act on your behalf, shopping for travel, searching for the best insurance, utility or mobile deals, advising you on health matters and host of other useful actions. It would not hand your information, such as date of birth, passport number or any other data, to any third parties without your permission. Giving permission would be as simple as talking to your Personal Agent via a device such as an Amazon Echo or Google Home or, more likely, through a connection on your smart phone.
So my vision of the future is that your information would be held securely in an Information Bank, your Personal Agent would use this for your benefit and anyone else who needed access to information would be given this, but under your control. Science fiction or science fact, what do you think?