Data is to the 21st Century what concrete was to the 20thTim GordonBlockedUnblockFollowFollowingMar 18Photo by Joel Filipe on UnsplashThose who built the great urban centres of the 20th Century did so powered by a huge range of new technologies.
Electricity, cars, concrete and elevators all drove new ways of living and enabled cities and suburbs that were fundamentally different from those that preceded them.
The new living spaces were built around the supremacy of the automobile, they reached higher in to the sky, they enabled people to run lives liberated from the traditional clock by electricity.
This had a profound impact on the human psyche — our culture was transformed, our work lives made different, our expectations shifted.
We moulded ourselves to the new world, and kept changing as new technologies (jet planes, computers) continued to drive the physical layout of our lives.
In the 21st Century we can already see that the driving cluster of technologies (ever faster telecommunication networks, sensors, automation, robotics and artificial intelligence) are creating the new digital world structures to which humanity will mould itself.
The structures in which we now choose to spend our time are being built from data.
This ranges from the obsessive Instagrammer or online gamer to workers hanging on for their next gig economy job and professionals collaborating through VR meeting systems.
As algorithms are rolled out ever further and the massive scaled returns to data aggregation mount we will find more and more of our lives are moderated, changed and impacted as “software eats the world”.
Where once firms defined themselves by their shiny physical presence — retail outlets standing proud on the high street — it is now the data-powered personalisation of their UX that drives corporate success.
And carefully crafted feedback loops ensure that users are gently co-opted down the optimal path.
Driver ratings from Uber, likes and retweets on Twitter, health stats from an Apple watch are all examples of data-driven personalised feedback to which we sub-consciously mould ourselves.
The linguistic parallels are fascinating.
We speak of the architects and engineers who create buildings — and now use the same words to describe those building our new software homes.
Meanwhile, the outsized-economic returns that flowed to well located land now flows to strategic data sets.
The difficult task of quarrying for cement is now matched by sweat shop data labellers.
Venture capitalists and entrepreneurs capture the financial imagination in the way that real estate moguls once could.
Charlie Chaplin being data processedWhat does this mean for us?.Well if we are about to live in a series of algorithms then we will modify our lives to match them.
Our ancestors did the same for cars — the economic benefits of the new vehicles meant that society bent individuals to the new paradigm.
Jay-walking became a crime.
Pedestrians learnt their place.
We still accept millions of deaths a year because the trade-off seems worthwhile.
We will do the same for the new data structures in which we will live.
And overall our lives will be better — much as the 20th century was an improvement on the 19th (with some obvious military technology-driven exceptions that may also bear parallels for our coming age).
But we will live in the digital architecture.
As AR and VR take off they will come to seem more and more real.
Important gatherings will take place in VR where once we had boardrooms.
Entertainment will drag us into immersive, interactive worlds from which some will struggle to surface.
Shopping will be done online, automatically.
And outside, around us, the architecture will look increasingly drab, dull and empty by comparison.
Until, at some stage, mid-century yearning for “the real” will bring it all back in to focus….. More details