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Three views on data economy: what are the threats and possibilities and who carries the responsibility?

The amount of data has exploded. How can data be turned into business that also benefits society?

Korhonen: “Data is just raw material, not yet a finished product. For data to be useful, it must first be structured, analyzed, and transformed into knowledge. It is this very process combined with a strong vision that makes data beneficial to the society. In an age of ubiquitous data, the scarce factor is the ability to understand that data and extract value from it.”

Haataja: “All responsible business also benefits society. It is important to strengthen the incentives for responsibility to promote not only economic but also positive social and environmental impacts and to manage the risks associated with them. A good question is how solving the big problems of our society could be interesting from a business point of view as well. This requires a change in the perspective of investors.”

Sarvas: “The business potential arising from the amount of data has already grown too hyped. Critical thinking is easily forgotten. The fact that a data-driven business is commercially profitable does not automatically mean that it is a good thing for society as a whole. Large IT companies and data experts have power and an advantage to guide the conversation and thinking. What is their vision of society, values ​​and politics?”

Which sectors of business or society will the data economy change next? Where do you see the potential for change to be easily harnessed?

Korhonen: “All industries and fields of society are benefiting from the new tools and methods. However, we see a huge focus on energy and sustainability. For example, just a short while ago YIT invested in Finnish start-up called Nuuka Solutions. They are helping housing companies to save energy and maintain healthy indoor air quality by using their AI driven platform.”

Haataja: “The same race affects many sectors. However, the investments in artificial intelligence can be used to indicate which sectors are the most affected. Expectations can be placed on traffic, which as an industry has grabbed up to a quarter of artificial intelligence investments in recent years. The investments are also significant in security and biometrics, and in various general-purpose and business applications that are changing almost all sectors.”

Sarvas: “The change should start from reasons other than that there is data potential. The potential of data must be tied to underlying strategic, social, or other reasons. Otherwise, the tail is wagging the dog, that is, things are changed without an understanding of what is being changed and why. Data, technology and business are tools to a goal, not an absolute value.”

User data is valuable to companies. Are we giving away our privacy for too cheap? What threats do you see with the increasing use of data?

Korhonen: “Data makes products and services more relevant and useful for users. It is data that enables, for instance, Maps to tell you how to navigate home or Google Translate to make more accurate translations for billions of people. When people use a product they trust the company with their information. It’s the company’s job to do right by them and keep their users’ data private, safe and secure. How the data is used should be an individual choice that belongs to the user.”

Haataja: “Data protection and security issues are growing risks in the data economy. They are better taken into account all the time, and they are already reflected in investors’ assessments. On the other hand, the risks to other fundamental rights, such as equality, good governance or freedoms, are clearly themes that we can only assess to a very limited extent, let alone manage.”

Sarvas: In medicine, there is a concept of informed consent. It means that a person understands what is being done to them. When disclosing private data, it is quite clear that no one has a complete understanding of what it can be used for. Indeed, a small innocent grain of information can be a significant invasion of privacy when this grain is combined with other grains, a broader database, and intelligent models. In addition, no one can say with certainty what the data can be used for in the future. That is why we must pay attention to the industry’s responsibility and legislation.”

What should be the next focus in research and development?

Korhonen: “The nature of a data-driven economy is systemic, so there are many focus areas: How algorithms and learning models can be applied to battle climate change or find efficiencies in energy production or agriculture? How AI can help specialists improve detection and diagnosis in healthcare? And slightly from a different angle, what is the leadership’s role in initiating a journey to become a data-driven organisation?”

Sarvas: “We need critical discussion and examples of how things can be done differently. Discussions on the use of data should not be left to university ivory towers or business fairs. It is not about the nuances of technology, science or business. The question of data is a political, public and a part of today’s civic skills. Nor should the debate be purely theoretical or analytical, but examples are now needed to provide alternatives and working solutions.”

Haataja: “The interaction between technology and humans is an area where I believe a lot of future successes or failures will occur. I hope it also gets more attention from the research community. I see the realization of economic, social and environmental responsibility through technology as a broad theme in commercial research. Of particular interest is the more comprehensive consideration of the social impact of technology as part of the ESG analysis.”


Want to hear more about the future of data? The discussion will continue with the same experts at KAUTE talks x Aalto University free webinar on 9 December at 9-10.30 am. Join us for an inspiring morning!

Sign up to the event by Mon 7 Dec by filling this sign-up form!

The event will be in English.

The event is produced by KAUTE Foundation, Aalto Digi Platform ja Data-driven Society project at Aalto University.