However, I would argue that this term may be a little unfair, to data; especially ‘big data’.
For centuries, gold has been highly regarded for its beauty, durability and an asset type to store value. More recently, gold has acquired a number of industrial uses, however, as an asset, it is predominantly a vehicle to preserve value. This is especially true during times of poor economic outlook when confidence in other asset groups is reduced. Data, in particular, quality data, when available in significant quantities, could be more valuable than gold. This is because it forms the foundation for knowledge and insight, which will ultimately drive innovation and new opportunities.
Indeed, some of the biggest and most successful technology organisations’ business models relies heavily on data. However, the reality is that every organisation, irrespective of the sector, will have data dependencies, including how these can be collected, stored and assessed efficiently. The reason that digital programmes feature prominently for organisations is that they need data to assess opportunities and risks to determine strategic directions and investments.
The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the importance of data in clinical trials and the development of therapeutics. For instance, scientists and medics have been systematically collecting large datasets to advance knowledge and propel innovation for decades. The UK Biobank and Iceland’s deCODE genetics are two examples of longer-term initiatives whose goals include personalised therapeutics.
The reason that large datasets are so valuable for patterns and insights because the sample will be representative of effects observed if we are able to sample every data point, which in most cases will not be possible. Large datasets thus provide confidence that observations are not skewed by chance. Combined with appropriate assurance to ensure quality, data volume will be directly proportional to the level of confidence to the patterns observed. Additionally, a large volume of data will also enable the detection of infrequent, but potentially crucial insights. Ultimately, data allow us to make educated decisions in a timely manner.
And it’s not just humans who need data to help them make decisions. There’s been much focus on mathematical algorithms used to either automate or augment human efforts. Leveraged for a variety of applications, from protection against zero-day cyber-attacks, to the detection of pathologies in clinical images, we often lose sight on the role of data in the process. The algorithms are in fact trained by data to identify anomalies or specific patterns.
Gold, whilst aesthetically pleasing and an arbitrage store for uncertain times, cannot directly create new opportunities and drive progress. Not only should data form the basis of some of the most important decisions we humans make, they are also the bedrock for algorithms which will drive the fourth industrial revolution. Data could be more valuable than gold.