Communication, opinion and conversation, are becoming valuable raw materials, like iron or coal in the past. Those with the best ability to access and manipulate this new material will have a tremendous competitive advantages over the rest. Currently, those materials are consolidating in the hands of a few companies.
Imagine for a moment that someone could put a chip into every human being, translating their conscious thoughts, feelings and emotions, into short text messages. Imagine that these text messages are transmitted to a central sever where they are stored and analyzed.
Short text messages summarizing everyone’s interests, activities, desires, fears, opinions, plans and interactions, collected for every man and woman of every age and every country, in real time. Lets call this a Mind Funnel, since it would funnel the content of everyone’s minds into a centralize server.
In economic terms, how much would this Mind Funnel be worth?
Who could compete against Mind Funnel Inc. in any sector once Big Data analytics and prediction technology is put to work?
Think of brands in retail, firms in healthcare or logistics, think of the public sector, security, politics, media…Think of the Marketing industry for example, and its multiplier effect on all other industries: Mind Funnel Inc. could wipe out any competitors on virtually any sector. Whatever you can imagine as advantages, it will be only the tip of the iceberg… Mind Funnel Inc. is set up for world domination.
Now consider applications such as Twitter, Facebook or WhatsApp. These applications are already digitizing a large fraction of our thoughts, emotions and needs in real time.
Twitter enables public communication (by all and for all). It is a Mind Funnel in the sense that a central Twitter owned repository collects all of our tweets, where they can be analyzed and processed for information in any way they see fit. Similarly Facebook and WhatsApp have enabled private communication, and in doing so they have acquired powerful Mind Funnels for themselves. Facebook for example knows more about the world’s companies and governments that those companies or governments themselves. They can use this knowledge to level all kinds of competitive advantages, as they are currently doing in marketing.
Many owners of such Mind Funnels allow third parties to “listen-in”, to connect to their servers and query for information in various ways. This has already spurred great innovation and growth in business; an entire ecosystem of services has evolved around Social Media already. To cite one recent example, Apple purchased Topsy (a company specialized in Twitter analytics) for over $200M in December of last year.
But the owners of Mind Funnels are very careful to keep locked their core value (and of course, why would they do otherwise?) To cite another recent example, WhatsApp was bought at $19,000M by Facebook this month, 100 times the prize of Topsy, the difference between owning the users analyzing data vs. having the
In other words: communication, opinion and conversation, are becoming valuable raw materials, like iron or coal in the past. Those with the best ability to access and manipulate this new material will have a tremendous competitive advantages over the rest. Currently, those materials are consolidating in the hands of a few companies.
So far Banks and Credit Cards, Hospitals, Insurers, Retailers and many others collect and commercially exploit our information in different ways. Are Mind Funnels different? Should we care differently?
Perhaps we simply need new legislation and industry regulations. Or perhaps this new material will prove simply too sensible and too valuable and we will need public services to collect, redistribute and monetize it, monetize our own thoughts and feelings.
Let’s follow this thought for one second. Imagine building a European Mind-Web. Like in the railroad system, once this network is built, different goods (or applications) can pass through the network, at a prize.
Future social networks and other communication applications (the future Pinterests, Vimeos, FourSquares, WhatsApps, TripAdvisors, etc.) could use this network to quickly deploy new products at a fraction of the cost, without having to deal with infrastructure or legal issues. Data Consumers (exploiting novel BigData analytics and prediction technology) could tap directly into the network. And final users could feel safe in their knowledge that their private communications, thoughts and opinions, are fueling a business ecosystem in a regulated and respectful way. Appropriate privacy and monetization policies could be built into the system to force a fair playground for everyone dealing with this type of data. And, why not? perhaps this network will be obliged to return to the users part of the wealth generated by its users.
Seeing it from this angle, an Open Source Mind-Web is a necessity, it would enable us to regulate the use and wealth derived from the network, instead of watching how a few reap all the benefits and build ever higher barriers of entry around us. In my opinion, such a network could bring huge potential for European growth and innovation.
Hugo Zaragoza (firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Text written for a Horizon 2020 European experts meeting, February 2014).