Ready or not, a ‘Big Data tsunami’ is altering probably every aspect of life and it is up to academics to help businesses, communities and individuals learn to surf it.
That was the message from Brunel Business School’s Professor Ashley Braganza at a two-day gathering to kick-start ideas for new cross-subject research.
The idea is to map out how AI and Big Data will change society and people’s lives the most over the next decade and what research will best equip people and organisations to cope.
“Big Data impinges on every aspect of all of our lives,” said Professor Julia Buckingham, Brunel University London’s vice-chancellor and president, who opened the talks.
“Bringing together disciplines, particularly social science, can help us understand how something that could be quite alarming could impact our lives in a beneficial way – and I urge you to put ethics and quality of life at the very top of your agenda.”
Set up by Prof Braganza and Coventry University’s Professor Maureen Meadows, the talks identified four different areas of AI and Big Data for research to focus on.
These included how ideologies become built into AI’s algorithms and the concept of value of AI and Big Data to organisations.
It also looked at trust and what it means for AI both when built into algorithms, and human trust or distrust of the results generated by technology.
Underpinning all these areas, it examined the consequences of AI and Big Data on society and individuals.
“Big Data and AI present challenges for individuals, organisations and society as a whole,” said Prof Meadows.
“For example, many businesses are still trying to figure out how Big Data and AI can add value to what they do – and they are not sure how to build their skills and capabilities to make the most of the opportunities that Big Data and AI can present.
“For many individuals, trust is a fundamental question. Recent news stories – such as Facebook’s approach to data sharing and the closure of Cambridge Analytica – may lead us to question the ways in which we engage with firms with new business models that are driven by data.”
The event resulted in a consensus that AI is not simply a passing fad.
“There is something deeply significant to what the impacts are going to be on people, on organisations and on society,” commented Prof Braganza.
Debate explored topics such as how the gig economy might spread to new sectors; how unevenly distributed leisure time might be as a result of jobs being automated, polarising those out of work and those in work and algorithms recommending what you should buy, and even how you might think and perceive events, relationships and other people.
“Who’s pulling the strings, and where?” added Prof Braganza.
“You can begin to shape perceptions of entire groups of people, and what can become hugely undermining to our structures of society – democracy, communities and how individuals perceive each other.
“As a new network of AI and Big Data researchers, our task is to work towards funding bids for research projects that will shape future debate, but also to start getting to grips with what the regulatory and ethical issues are.”