Students at M.I.T. have created “clothes” that can collect and store data. The wearable fabric is made of special fiber that could one day capture digital information about your body and lifestyle. Optimists hope the technology will be used to help monitor the health of the wearers or keep them away from dangerous locations. While these possibilities are enticing, we must wonder wether anyone would actually purchase clothing that would allow corporations to essentially spy on consumers. The West is already fed up with electronics that track their activity for advertising purposes, and some go so far as to avoid benign things like vaccines and 5G internet due to fear that such innovations could lead to invasive monitoring and infringements on privacy. These qualms are mostly unfounded, but they reveal how many are willing to avoid life-saving products in order to regain some sense of privacy. If Western consumers are already holding tight onto their personal data, will they ever accept products that collect even more information? Should they?
Some privacy concerns are legitimate. Consumers complain that data collection can lead to identity theft and exploitation, and that it can be a little unnerving. However, we know that data collection fuels AI innovation, which will play a huge role in the international balance of power. China currently holds 30% of the world’s data, a number that already surpаsses the U.S. and other western nations. If this data gap continues to widen, the AI arms race will lean further and further towards China. The CCP has named AI world dominance as a top priority, and doesn’t show any reluctance in using AI technology to surveil, “grade”, and even enslave their own citizens. A world in which China holds military and commercial AI superiority could greatly harm Western society and its core values. Weaponized AI will strengthen China’s cyber warfare and their ability to develop lethal autonomous weapons (LAWS). Superior commercial AI will make it more likely that westerners purchase Chinese products, making their international surveillance even easier.
No matter how they feel about data collection, both critics and proponents of AI agree that China’s AI program and their flavor of governance would be bad for the West. But how will we ever win an AI arms race with a serious drought of data?
Free market trends could take care of the job for us. One reason consumers opt out of data sharing is because they don’t receive anything in compensation, besides perhaps some embarrassingly personalized ads. We can change AI development in the United States and Europe by purchasing data from the citizens who generate them. A good example of this is receipt hog, the a data-buying app that asks users to trade pictures of their receipts for virtual tokens that can be used to redeemed gift cards and prizes. The app even explains to consumers where their data will be used. Of course, the process is still not completely transparent, but it is a step towards responsible handling of personal data.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is already here, and the industry will continue to innovate life changing products like the health monitoring fabric from M.I.T. The way to make sure our AI production remains first rate is to give consumers a reason to share their data. This will help fuel stronger national security, but it will also make cutting edge products easier to swallow. If something called Receipt Hog can convince people to willingly share information, imagine how much easier it could be for a live saving invention. Current business models take the value of collected data into account and factor this into price, which allows companies to offer tangible products at a reduced cost and digital products (like apps and social networks) for free. However, as concern over data rights rise, this model may prove suboptimal. Offering consumers money for using a product, coupled with transparent explanations of where their data is going, will make AI adoption much more attractive in the West. We have to stay ahead in this technology boom, so we might as well might as well make some money in the process. We as consumers should be given the opportunity to sell our data. Data rights will protect the world balance and accelerate our journey to the future of human civilization.
Many want to ban certain types of data collection all together. While it is good to point out ethical issues and demand responsibility from corporations, ending data collection will not solve our privacy problems. In fact, if our lack of data allows China to control AI production, it may even increase them. Instead, let’s start asking for the right to be paid for our information. Together we can change the future.