Microsoft Unveils Open Data Movement to Narrow ‘Data Divide’

Microsoft this week announced that it is throwing its weight behind an Open Data Campaign to address what it sees as a looming “data divide”. The objective is to pave the way towards making data available to be shared and reused by others, much like how open-source software changed how a significant proportion of computer code is produced.

Making more data available

Microsoft says it will collaborate with other organizations on opening some of its data for wider use. It will also create standardized tools and legal frameworks, and work with both public and private partnerships to make it easier for others to follow suit.

In a blog post, Jennifer Yokoyama, the chief IP counsel at Microsoft pointed to a prediction by PWC that around 70% of the economic value generated by AI will accrue to just two countries: the U.S. and China. She alluded this to the concentration of data in the hands of a few: the U.S. and China, and a small handful of global tech companies.

“Despite the enormous growth in data and AI, both are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a small number of companies. Indeed, fewer than 100 companies now collect more than 50% of the data generated by online interactions (based on analysis of, and and around half of all people with technical AI skills work in the technology sector (according to figures from LinkedIn),” wrote Yokoyama.

Pointing to these companies, Yokoyama noted that their advantageous position means they can reap the enormous benefits of data and AI while others are left at a disadvantage. This data divide poses a serious challenge for society and, if left unaddressed, could lead to huge economic power flowing to just a few countries and companies, she noted.

“Unless organizations are able to collect and categorize data in a standardized way, they will not be able to aggregate and analyze it in a manner that produces the transformative insights that shared data has the potential to unlock,” she summed up.

“We see increasingly a looming data divide,” Smith said in an interview with the Financial Times. “We’re not trying to criticize the companies that have a different business model,” he said. “We’re not trying to nationalize their data; we’re not trying to undermine the value of the data. But we are saying different companies have different data needs.”

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