Understanding the fifth basic human need: data

For thousands of years, human society recognised four basic human needs: food, water, air and shelter.

But in less than a decade, a fifth basic human need has emerged – data.

Not a believer? Then just consider the following statistics: 

  • The number of connected devices globally is expected to nearly triple from 13.4 billion in 2015 to 38.5 billion in 2020 (Juniper Research).
  • As of May 2016, there are 7.8 billion active mobile phone subscriptions, compared with a population of 7.4 billion.
  • Three quarters of all online adults use social media.

Still not persuaded? Ask yourself how you would feel if you had no access to non-physical data for the next week. I get nervous just thinking about it. The 50th anniversary of the first moon landing is just a few years away. We all know that computing power has increased, however we don’t usually realise how much. If you own an iPhone 6, it’s 120 million times faster than the Apollo guidance computers.

This computing power combined with near ubiquitous access is driving the growth of meta trends, including: the sharing economy; instant messengers; automated education; automated healthcare; and automated government. Modern life would be impossible without the ability to instantly access and process your data. 

It’s not just people who are creating and using data; the Internet of Things including Machine-to-Machine communications (M2M) mean objects are now generating, sharing and using data.

A significant and growing proportion of the 7.8 billion active phone accounts the GSMA references actually belong to machines, which are using them to talk to other machines. Think of your car. It can now tell the mechanic if something is wrong. It can tell you if someone is trying to steal it. It can play your favourite music. It can even take dictation.

Then there are robots. Perhaps the most interesting manifestation of the growth in robots is the use of robotic ‘avatars’ in place of real people, in areas as diverse as customer service, healthcare and education. Some of these are proper robots, with no guiding human intelligence; others are telepresence devices, with a real person controlling them, seeing and hearing what the robot can sense, and being able to interact with people around the robot.

Of course there are many more examples like drones, self-driving cars and 3D printing; all driving an increase in the volume of data created and used. 

We are now in a world where individuals must have the inalienable right not just to food, water, air and shelter, but to data as well. And that means they have the right to expect that data to be protected, secure and available to them if and when they need it, and on any device and in any location.

They also need to be able to have full control and ownership of their data but that’s for another time…


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