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Interview with the Authors of Inescapable Data

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Chris Stakutis and John Webster, the authors of Inescapable Data, answer questions about the concept of inescapable data, the most important technological developments in the next decade, and how to weed through all your data to find the meaningful bits.
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Q. Why was Inescapable Data written?

A. (Chris Stakutis) We saw a number of major factors coming together in the world that we suspected would cause major improvements and changes to business style and our own lives. We wanted to seek-out and find areas where data-everywhere + wireless everywhere was changing the world in dramatic ways. We thought the best way to go about this would be thru interviews of key execs across a broad range of industries.

(John Webster) We saw the present availability of multiple and pervasive data sources like cell phones with cameras, music players, and GPS receivers built-in; digital video surveillance cameras that can be acquired for pennies and connected to the internet; Radio Frequency ID (RFID) tags appearing in grocery stores. We wondered what kinds of new information could be generated from the convergence of these data sources. For example, the Audubon Society sells wireless microphone devices to its members that can connect over the internet to a data base of bird songs. The database "listens" to these bird songs coming through over the Internet and can identify them to users of the device. That in itself is great, but if you combine with that an ability to identify the geographic location (with the addition of GPS data) of the wireless microphones that are all "listening", then the Audubon Society has a way to track bird migrations that it didn't have before - i.e. a new form of information. We want to bring that kind of thinking to the attention of as many people as we can that would care about either using or just knowing about these new kinds of information. We are crazy enough to think that the ability to converge multiple data sources in real time is in fact a monumentally significant event in human history. Humanity has been developing different ways of presenting data/information ever since man started to communicate. We are now surrounded with separate information feeds - so many in fact that we really can't manage them all. We therefore see this new ability to fuse together many diverse data feeds into new forms of information as a milestone event in human history.

Q. Who would most benefit from reading Inescapable Data?

A. (Chris) The book is intended to open the eyes of the average business person, whether they are directly in a technology business (such as computers) or not (such as shoe manufacturing). The reality is that technology has infiltrated all aspects of our business lives...and our home lives including recreating and even religion. The book is particularly important for managers and executives who can re-shape their businesses around the new data-centric mentality that seems to be governing the world.

(John) Given my comments above, one could say that the book is written for anyone that that either needs or wants to look into the future of human information exchange. But realistically, I think Chris is right when he says that it is intended for those with the power to reshape. However, we point out in the book that we are describing a power that virtually anyone with a somewhat advanced understanding of present-day computing constructs can harness. ID puts that reshaping power in the hands of individuals, whether behind the desk, or behind the wheel of a race car.

Q. How did you select the people whom you interviewed and contributed to Inescapable Data?

A. (Chris) Our main intention was to "sample" a wide range of industries. We then went thru our collectively Rolodex's to see who we knew in each area and then pursued those people. We wanted to focus strictly on top people...CEO's and CTO types. (John) We felt that finding people within various industries and interest groups (sports for example) that were also seeing some of the same things we were seeing would not only add weight to the arguments we present, but give the reader a sense that Inescapable Data is a real phenomenon.

Q. What do you see as the three most important technological developments in the next decade that will contribute to Inescapable Data?

A. (Chris)

  1. Data-emitting devices, such as (but not limited to) RFID. Video-everywhere, finger-print capture everywhere (or retinal etc)...and almost a cacophony of "noise" emanating from everything.
  2. Wireless everywhere...all of our appliances, all of our machines, all of our toys (like PDA's and Cells and iPods). This is critical as it provides the "wiring" (so to speak) to allow the interconnection of all the data-everywhere devices...plus back-end ties into massive accumulated databases.
  3. Decodable information. New styles for describing information (such as XML) that are both human and machine readable which provides the final lynch-pin that allows all of this data (that can now flow do to the wireless everywhere networking) to actually be useful (as data will now be *information).

(John) What Chris said...

Q. How can an individual weed through all his/her data to find the information he/she needs most? Is it all legitimate?

A. (Chris) With data-everywhere comes the risk of exploitation and illusions. But think back, this was true with the web in the early days. Fake or hockery cancer cures, damaging rumors, and so forth. But over time, the vastness of the data in the internet and critical tools like google actually force a good degree of legitimacy. So too we expect this in the new world. Finding the right data streams to search or combine will be challenging at first (can you imagine the time before google?). Learning how to best decode it and couple-it will be a learning curve. The good news is that there will be literally billions of people with the base skills and requisite access to technology to allow for rapid value creation...like none other in the history of computers.

(John) We think that entrepreneurs will see the need to make sense of the mass of information now available and respond in creative ways. Google is a prime example. No doubt, big companies like IBM and Microsoft will respond to the need as well.

The question about the legitimacy of information is... well... very legitimate, but it isn't new. Finding trusted information sources is an ages old problem. However, is it possible for someone, using the fusing of data sources we describe, to create a very believable illusion in ways we haven't yet seen? Yes.

Q. With wireless networks and ubiquitous data enabling full transparency for so many of life's functions, what in life will remain a mystery?

A. (Chris) We hope, over time, nothing. The goal of life is perhaps complete and total knowledge...of everything. Why? Because it provides the delusion of control. The more a business can understand about its customer's buying habits, or the more a coach can understand about the effects of various training regimens, or the more direct access we have to our teenagers, the more we believe we're in-control (and truly we will have more control than in the past). The new world of moving-data will bring us more knowledge and insight than we ever anticipated, and the challenge is to outpace your competitors and peers to properly exploit it.

(John) There will always be mysteries. I would argue that with fewer information sources there are fewer mysteries.

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