AI Business Consultant

The Knowledge Economy. Profiting from Information Fuel

24 May, 2024

Data is the new gold. Just like oil fueled the industrial revolution, data is powering the digital age. Think of it this way: Big Tech companies are the new energy giants, and information is the new fuel.

These tech giants are investing billions in data centers, just like oil companies built refineries. They're not just storing data; they're using it to build powerful AI systems that driving innovation across industries, from healthcare to finance to transportation. And the companies that control the most powerful AI systems will be the most influential in the future.

The Knowledge Economy

We're moving from a physical economy to a knowledge economy. Data is the currency of this new world is more valuable than ever before. It's used to create new products, services, and experiences. Companies that can effectively collect, analyze, and use data will have a significant competitive advantage.

Big Giants Exploring New Oil

The Data Abundance. Just like oil, data is a plentiful resource constantly being generated through our daily digital activities. Users contribute to this abundance through online interactions, social media posts, and device usage. Companies collect data from sensors, IoT devices, and user behavior, requiring sophisticated techniques to extract valuable insights, similar to refining crude oil.

Tech Giants and Data Monetization. Akin to oil companies extracting, refining, and selling oil, tech giants monetize data. Companies like Google, Meta, and Amazon leverage user data to personalize recommendations, target ads, and improve services.

However, the focus should extend beyond profits, exploring how data can enhance our lives and address societal challenges.

The existing model for handling data appears unsustainable. As the data economy grows, data refineries reap substantial profits, while those who generate the data often receive only free services in return. The raw material of AI services - data - is essentially a form of labor, and the value imbalance needs to be addressed.

The Quest for Diverse Datasets

To enhance the performance of advanced AI models like GPT-4, leading AI companies acquire diverse and extensive datasets from various sources. These datasets include text from books, articles, websites, and other publicly available content, both open source and licensed.

Recently, OpenAI has started collaborating with large community websites, such as Stack Overflow and Reddit, to access their data. While this partnership aims to improve AI models, it has sparked controversy among the communities who feel their contributed content is being utilized without proper consent or compensation.

The Growing Value of Data

The value of data is increasing exponentially. Initially, companies like Meta and Google used data to target advertising better, but they have since discovered that data can be transformed into a wide range of AI or "cognitive" services, generating new revenue streams. These services include translation, visual recognition, and personality assessments, which can be sold to other firms for integration into their products.

To meet the growing demand for data, "data brokers" are thriving, and markets or exchanges for data assets are starting to develop. Initiatives like Citizenme and Datacoup are empowering users to take a more active role in the data economy, earning a share of the proceeds from their personal data.

The scale of the data universe is staggering. Recent analysis has estimated that the "digital universe" (the data created and copied every year) will reach 180 zettabytes (180 followed by 21 zeros) in 2025, underscoring the immense value of this new resource.

Data Center Exploding Dominance

In 2024, tech giants will invest a staggering $300 billion - roughly equivalent to Finland's GDP - primarily in data centers, the modern-day equivalent of oil field development. Microsoft and Amazon have already allocated over $40 billion combined for AI-related and data center projects worldwide this year, as reported by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

Microsoft has outlined plans to invest over $16 billion in countries like France, Germany, Japan, Malaysia, Spain, and Indonesia. Similarly, Amazon has earmarked investments of $15 billion in Japan, $9 billion in Singapore, $5 billion in Mexico, and $1.3 billion in France.

The driving force behind these investments is the need to have data centers built in regions where the shift to cloud computing is occurring, ensuring faster processing times, data privacy, and security, as per the WSJ report.

While tech's global energy investment may not match the sector yet, individual tech giants like Alphabet, Amazon, Meta, and Microsoft will spend more in CapEx this year than industry leaders like ExxonMobil, Chevron, or Saudi Aramco. Meta, for instance, operates 18 data centers that cover the same area as 19 Disneylands, and the Core in Las Vegas, one of the world's largest data centers, even has its own hype video.

Similar to the oil and gas sector's supply-side barriers to entry, the Big Tech Giants are in a fierce race to grab the biggest slice of the AI market, fueling their data center expansions.

The Parallels between Oil and Data

Much like oil refineries that extract petrol, propane, and other components from crude oil, data centers transport air to cool tens of thousands of computers and extract value - patterns, predictions, and insights - from raw digital information.

Both the oil industry and data tech giants serve a crucial role: producing essential feedstocks for the global economy. While oil fuels everything from cars to plastics and pharmaceuticals, the distillations of data centers power a wide range of online services and an increasingly connected real world.

Oil's unrivaled source material for machine power has created wealthy nations out of deserts. Similarly, Big Tech companies may dominate the market capitalization league tables, but energy remains the revenue king.

The energy business, whether oil or data, requires massive capital expenditures allocated on data and faith, offering unrivaled payoffs for those who wager correctly.

In today's knowledge economy, information and compute is the new energy.

Recognition of Data Importance in Traditional Industries

Consider the case of predicting crop yields in UK. An advanced language model could be trained on terabytes of data collected daily from aircraft equipped with cutting-edge imaging technology. These images capture visual details, infrared wavelengths, and even penetrate clouds using radar. By analyzing factors like soil health, crop growth stages, and weather patterns, the LLM can make remarkably accurate yield predictions.

Similarly, gas companies can leverage this aerial data to train LLMs for detecting wildfire risks along transmission lines. By analyzing images and identifying vegetation patterns, the LLM can predict fire-prone areas, enabling proactive measures and minimizing potential damage.

Acquiring vast, diverse datasets is crucial for training these powerful LLMs. Companies are increasingly investing in data acquisition to enhance their models' capabilities. This growing importance of data purchase is transforming the field of AI.

The medical industry is a prime example of this data-driven revolution. LLMs are being used for disease diagnosis and treatment optimization, with remarkable results. Consider an model trained to detect breast cancer in mammograms. While the model initially achieved a 92% accuracy rate, surpassing human pathologists at 96%, combining the LLM's findings with human expertise resulted in a staggering 99.5% accuracy.

The key to this significant improvement lies in the acquisition of massive datasets for training the AI models.

By training the model on countless mammograms, it learned to detect subtle patterns and variations indicative of cancerous cells, far exceeding human capabilities.

As traditional industries embrace the power of data and AI, the future of innovation and progress is unfolding before our eyes.

Digital Economy Advantage and Unparalleled Economies of Scale

The digital economy thrives on inherent characteristics that give incumbents a distinct competitive edge. At the heart of this lies the disproportionately low cost of producing digital services and goods, despite the large numbers of users they cater to. This leads to enormous returns to scale, far surpassing traditional business models.

The lower production costs, easier penetration of multiple markets, and higher intensity in knowledge assets enable digital companies to scale up rapidly, generating rapidly increasing returns to scale. This first-mover advantage can make it challenging for new players to enter the market. Digital firms can achieve scale without the need for physical mass, establishing a strong presence in a market while operating remotely.

The Power of Network Effects

The digital economy is also characterized by strong network externalities. As more users embrace a given product, service, or technology, it becomes increasingly accessible and attractive for new users to join. These network effects can be direct, as seen in social networks and communication platforms, or indirect, as observed in transaction-facilitating platforms and advertisement-based models.

From a competitive standpoint, these network effects can make it difficult for new entrants to challenge the market leader, even if their offering is objectively superior in quality or price. The mere fact of being an established player can be a powerful deterrent to user migration.

Data plays a crucial role in achieving the economies of scale and network externalities that characterize the digital landscape. The technology-assisted utilization of data has been a driving force behind the ongoing digital transformation, putting the role of data at the forefront of the current regulatory debate.

The Insatiable Demand for Energy

Underlying this digital revolution is the insatiable demand for energy. The more energy we generate, the more we consume. Wealth and energy consumption are intrinsically linked, powering not only profligate lifestyles but also the fundamental infrastructure of the modern world, from communications networks to transportation.

As the digital economy continues to evolve, the strategic management of data, the activation of network effects, and the sustainable provision of energy will be pivotal in determining the future of this dynamic and captivating landscape.

The Lifeblood of the Digital Age

The value of information in economic activities has long been recognized. However, two key technological trends have propelled data to new heights of significance - technological progress and the development of sophisticated analytical techniques.

Technological advancements have drastically reduced the costs of collecting, storing, and utilizing quantifiable data, which is constantly being produced due to our increasingly digitalized economic and social activities. The rise of advanced analytical techniques has enabled unprecedented levels of data processing, realising even greater value from this valuable resource.

Digital information is unlike any previous resource; it is extracted, refined, valued, bought, and sold in entirely new ways. This shift in the rules of the game demands fresh approaches from regulators, as battles loom over the ownership and benefits of data. The stakes have never been higher, as the global economy hangs in the balance.

The New Fuel for Prosperity

Just as energy fueled economic growth in the past, information and computational power will drive future prosperity. Data serves as the raw material for training AI models, enabling them to learn patterns, recognize semantics, and generate meaningful content - much like how oil powered the industrial revolution by fueling machinery and transportation. The potential is staggering, but the challenges are equally present.

Ensuring a more equitable geographic distribution of the value derived from data presents a significant challenge. Currently, the majority of big data refineries are situated in the United States or are under the control of American companies. As the economy driven by data continues to advance, this concentration raises sustainability concerns, foreshadowing potential future conflicts akin to past resource-based confrontations.

The advent of the digital era has opened up a new frontier wherein data plays a central role in driving economic progress. Effectively leveraging this invaluable resource, while navigating the treacherous waters of ownership and fair distribution, will be the defining challenge of our time. The future of the global economy hangs in the balance, and the stakes have never been higher.

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