How technology can contribute to the rise of nationalism

Inspired by a question from musician will.i.am, the World Economic Forum is collaborating with countries to create a global data exchange that could be used to solve common problems.

Dan Patterson, a Senior Producer for CBS News and CNET, interviewed Murat Sönmez, director of the World Economic Forum, about nationalism and how data is contributing to it. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

Dan Patterson: Has technology contributed to this rise of nationalism?

Murat Sönmez: It has. I think the key reason is if you look at the valuation of platform companies--the big ones in the US and China--their valuations are above--for some of them, over a trillion dollars--and countries where these technologies have not evolved from our saying, hang on a second, they're using our data and becoming devalued. Whereas my country nation is not getting the taxes nor the benefit, and the owners of the data are not getting anything. 

We're seeing this data nationalism, sovereignty, and countries are saying, 'You cannot take data out of our country,' or 'You have to apply our laws when you use our data.' It's great for privacy, but it gets in the way of using the data to solve some common problems.

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Dan Patterson: Over the next, say 18, 36 months, you said the word data,and we're thinking about nationalism. Forecast for me how data pools--data lakes--will increase or decrease this rise of nationalism.

Murat Sönmez: We had an idea from one of our advisory board members--will.i.am, the musician--and he said, 'Anytime somebody uses my music, I get residual value out of it. Why can't we do the same for data?' That triggered a thought, and we said, 'What if we, the owners of the data, can provide their data at will or for free of charge for a common purpose?' 

For example, I think most of us would give our genetic data to cure cancer because it lifts everybody, but if it's for a commercial drug discovery, we want to get paid. We said, 'Can we create a mechanism where the owners can specify what the data can be used for, and if it's for commercial reasons, they get paid?' And now the finance authorities can tax it, and we call it a data marketplace or data exchange.

We're working with a number of countries to pilot this idea, and I'm confident that it will succeed. Then, we can collect our global data pools on common purposes.

For example, if you want to improve the state of the ocean, the ocean doesn't understand boundaries. We can have countries and people contribute their data for that purpose. If you want to cure cancer, likewise. If you want to improve agricultural yields, we can create this purpose-driven collaboration on data, not just open-ended collaboration.

Watch more interviews with Dan Patterson and Murat Sönmez

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