Trust will be the biggest challenge of the cloud, apps, big data and social age

22 Jan 2013

The issue of trust will tower over the matter of struggling to manage the exponential growth in data and will define the cloud age and the consequent explosions in social media, apps and big data, the ITLG Global Technology Leaders Summit in Cork heard today.

Up to 1,000 people gathered at the Irish Technology Leadership Group’s event in Cork today.

In a discussion led Rory McInerney, Intel Architecture Group vice-president and director of the Microprocessor Development Group, it emerged that the impact of cloud computing is already being felt by most consumers in the world today who will be concerned not so much about the technology but ultimately by trust and what happens with their data.

The debate involved Facebook’s director of Global Sales Services Gail Power, the CIO of pharmaceutical company Elan Kevin Barrett; data infrastructure player Magnet’s CEO Mark Kellett; technology investor Bill Liao from SOSventures and EMC vice-president Bob Savage.

McInerney pointed out that today broadband-enabled and smartphone-toting consumers are generating massive volumes of data, presenting technological, environmental and energy challenges.

He said YouTube sees 72 hours of video a minute and 1 terabyte of data equalling 300 hours of HD video uploaded every four minutes.

“Facebook sees 500 terabytes of data ingested into its database every minute. Boeing monitors 20 terabytes of data an hour as it monitors its jets worldwide in real-time. CERN generates 1 petabyte of data every second in its search for the origins of life.”

The social and cloud age reflects real life as we know it

Barrett explained how cloud is going to shape the future of drug discovery insofar as it takes 15 years and an average investment of US$1.2bn and a 79pc failure rate to bring a drug to market.

“There are real challenges and opportunities,” he said, pointing out that if data such as blood pressure was gathered and analysed in real-time it could accelerate the development of future products.

Kellett provided the example of a new shopping district that is being built in Wembley that is anticipating a footfall of 26m people a year.

In tandem with the 26m people, the new shopping district is being prepped to gather data from scanned number plates to Facebook check-ins and more. “That data will fly to data centres and the speed at which that data will be processed  and analysed will present opportunities to the more than 100 retailers in the shopping district,” Kellett said.

Power said that out of the social network’s 1bn users on the planet, more than 600m log in daily on their smartphones. She said the 1.3trn likes so far on Facebook yield enormous amounts of insight and that there are 142bn friend connections on the social network.

“The big challenge is how we continue to build trust with users. Our mission is to make the world more connected and that means sharing data. Mobile is changing how people search and consume information and expectations have changed massively to information anytime, anywhere, through any device.

“The challenge for Facebook is how we can keep ahead in terms of the volumes of data and do that in an environmentally friendly manner,” Power said.

Pillars for growth of the IT industry

Savage said the three pillars of growth in the IT industry over the next 25 years will be cloud computing, big data and trust.

“Cloud computing is transforming IT, and it is the federation between the two that is the sweet spot right now.

“The present opportunity is software-defined data centres, networks and application layers, but the future is big data and it is going to impact on business as we know it.”

Liao pointed out that while the technology is revolutionising people’s lives, harnessing all the data and making it useful is contributing to the big data revolution. But in all of this, what people care about most is privacy and trust.

“Wisdom is at the top of this tree and under wisdom is knowledge and under knowledge is information and under information is data.

“One thing people underestimate is how difficult it is to turn data into wisdom and under that is misinformation, bad policy and bad ideas.

“What I see is going to happen is in the quest for wisdom we are going to sacrifice privacy on the altar of convenience in the name of trust.

“All this data is being generated – human beings are addicted to the knowledge – and in terms of the information we can get from big data, it makes no sense to hide all this stuff.

“The battle not going to be fought by creating restrictions on freedom to information.”

Power pointed out that equipping users with knowledge in order to enhance and improve trust will be critical.

“Our success is based on users and how happy users feel with the product – it is almost a utility now and how they interact daily. One of the things we try to do is give the user more control over what they share and knowledge of what they share.

“Inline controls: we’ve tried to make it more accessible but in doing that it becomes more complex and harder to figure out. We are constantly iterating and while we do get bad press, we are constantly trying to make it obvious if information is being shared with a timeline for how they see it,” Power said.

“We want users to be in control,” Power said.

She pointed out that on the wider internet many people’s browsing and search information is cached on the internet.

“I think Facebook has a responsibility to protect this information, but all the other internet sites also have a responsibility to make people aware what information is out there about them.”

Liao said legislation needs to be created to protect people’s rights. “But right now we’re flying blind with decisions being made on the strength of persuasion, not data.

“People argue if you are not paying for the product you are the product, that it doesn’t matter as long as it serves you. But what we should be concerned about is when the data isn’t serving you.”

Apps that will serve our lives

While the world figures out the tricky legal and personal implications of cloud, social media and big data, one thing that can’t be held back is the growing sophistication of the apps that are making the most out of the power of smartphones to make our lives more convenient.

Liao pointed to opportunities that will arise as we reach the intersection between art and data. The creative coding movement is rife with new ways of visualising what is going on – we are going to see some amazing innovations.”

McInerney pointed to how he and his neighbours are buying nappies for their children on Amazon for same-day delivery and how McDonald’s latest app allows you to buy a burger that will only be cooked once your smartphone tells its servers that you are nearing the restaurant.

Power pointed to the Hailo app that in her opinion is “life changing.” She continued: “There are so many more things going to spring up in that intersection of real-time payment on mobile and trusting it will be safe.

“It’s all happening and we are going to see more and more apps impact our lives in ways we cannot imagine.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years