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The World's Most Valuable Resource is No Longer Oil, But Data (economist.com) 86

An oil refinery is an industrial cathedral, a place of power, drama and dark recesses: ornate cracking towers are its gothic pinnacles, flaring gas its stained glass, the stench of hydrocarbons its heady incense. Data centres, in contrast, offer a less obvious spectacle: windowless grey buildings that boast no height or ornament, they seem to stretch to infinity. Yet the two have much in common. From an article on The Economist: A new commodity spawns a lucrative, fast-growing industry, prompting antitrust regulators to step in to restrain those who control its flow. A century ago, the resource in question was oil. Now similar concerns are being raised by the giants that deal in data, the oil of the digital era (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source). These titans -- Alphabet (Google's parent company), Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft -- look unstoppable. They are the five most valuable listed firms in the world. Their profits are surging: they collectively racked up over $25bn in net profit in the first quarter of 2017. Amazon captures half of all dollars spent online in America. Google and Facebook accounted for almost all the revenue growth in digital advertising in America last year. Such dominance has prompted calls for the tech giants to be broken up, as Standard Oil was in the early 20th century.
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The World's Most Valuable Resource is No Longer Oil, But Data

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  • This is just silly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Friday May 05, 2017 @02:43PM (#54363219)
    Data only appears more valuable because the cost to "mine" it is very, very low. That makes the margins on it look great. But in terms of actual value show me anybody who'd rather have the same amount of data vs land if you're measuring in dollars.
    • by epyT-R ( 613989 ) on Friday May 05, 2017 @02:48PM (#54363281)

      Yeah.. data won't matter for shit without oil to power the machines.

    • by TWX ( 665546 )

      Data is all about potential, and that potential can in some cases have volatility- if there's no use for it then it goes stale and becomes essentially worthless, until suddenly someone comes up with a new algorithm or a whole application for it, when suddenly it becomes valuable, or the results from interpreting it become valuable. Cycle then repeats itself as more and more data is collected.

      Sometimes real estate loses value too. I'd hate to have owned a business in a small midwest town that was dependent

      • You're more or less correct.

        However, I would like to suggest that Data wants to be free (easily duplicated, see Streisand Effect for example), and People want data to be secret. The ONLY valuable data is that which remains under control of dissemination.

        Data itself isn't powerful, what is powerful is what it can do or what it can prevent. Think of it this way, when man learned he could control fire, that was huge, but not as huge as learning how to generate it. The data (ability to control fire) led to all

    • by Jzanu ( 668651 )
      There is only so much land globally, especially land suitable for sophisticated business services which require extensive infrastructure. At most that satisfies the requirement for plant, but it barely scratches the surface of a business model. Consumer data powers new market research and business intelligence; an organization is like an organism, data analysis is how it knows what to do to survive and better to thrive in competitive business environments. Skepticism and arrogance are popular lately but tha
      • by epyT-R ( 613989 )

        I wouldn't discount skepticism so quickly. Skepticism is the cornerstone of the sciences which enable the technology stack required for mass information collection and processing. Without it, you would not have an information economy.

    • by Mr D from 63 ( 3395377 ) on Friday May 05, 2017 @02:56PM (#54363347)
      Only useful data is valuable. But the whole of data is diluted with much useless data. For example, Slashdot articles have a very low DVD (data value density).
    • Yeah - lemme know when I can invest in data futures.
      (Not that I'd want to)

      • Yeah - lemme know when I can invest in data futures.

        That is what you are doing when you buy shares in Google or Facebook.

      • At some point in the future, V-Ger will return to its creator, having attained knowledge of everything. At that point, we're screwed, unless we have a sexy bald officer on hand.

      • What happens when you invest in financial advisers? They use models and financial data to predict what the markets will be, and an investment in them would suggest you are confident in their data modeling, which should allow them to get high returns (for those that use their services) and thus high fees and thus high returns to the original investor.
    • measuring in dollars

      Even measuring in dollars is a pretty "rough" way to compare these two. Even an apples to oranges comparison would be more apt -- at least they're both fruits, about the same size and nutritional value. Data and oil are completely different commodities. Though the market for data is booming, I think it's still a bit early to start projecting long-term trends.

    • Yeah, no shit. Tell us, msmash, what common units of measurement we should use so as to actually be able to compare these two orthogonal concepts?

      In other news, four blowjobs and a roasted turkey contain more BTU's than a bungee jump and an English essay...

      • Didn't you know baseballs are way better than flower pots?
      • I *think* that is dependent on the length (and storage format I suppose) of the essay...

        none the less, I fine it an entertaining comparison. /hat tip

    • Great point. Besides, one could have all the data one wants about me, but if I'm either broke, or simply refuse to buy anything, what good would all that data about me do?

      For the Googles, the Amazons & the Microsofts, it's that proverbial 'numbers game', where they'd find billions of people like me, but w/ a few who are more willing to buy things.

  • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Friday May 05, 2017 @02:43PM (#54363223)

    An oil refinery is an industrial cathedral, a place of power, drama and dark recesses: ornate cracking towers are its gothic pinnacles, flaring gas its stained glass, the stench of hydrocarbons its heady incense

    I think a college somewhere is missing an English major.

    I've been in industrial sites, physical plants, power plants. They are the opposite of a church; form follow function, and often everything to do with maintenance has to do with function, not simply with keeping things tidy, and there's nothing hallowed or sacrosanct other than the ability of the machine to function as intended.

  • by lobiusmoop ( 305328 ) on Friday May 05, 2017 @02:47PM (#54363261) Homepage

    Pretty sure it's still printer ink.

    • I'm pretty sure it's the data about how to corner the printer ink market.

  • by MindPrison ( 864299 ) on Friday May 05, 2017 @02:47PM (#54363263) Journal

    >The World's Most Valuable Resource is No Longer Oil, But Data.

    I'd like to see you drive a car based on data fuel, oh...I mean ...plastic...I mean. Data...

    Bah, bullshit - when shit hits the fan, your data on my health history or the neighbors criminal history means diddley squat - only resources means something, something you can eat, use and consume. Data is whatever you think of, resources is what you need to survive.

  • My career is turning oil into data. Seriously, I test engines. Sounds like business will be good!
  • 24 well-publicised hours should do the trick.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Data just makes things better, Oil actually makes things.

    It seems obvious that data is over valued and oil under valued.

    Invest in ExxonMobil today!

  • if data saves Just One Child, then it's worth it. (well, in Star Trek TNG, didn't Data save one or two?)
  • "Data creation is exploding. With all the selfies and useless files people refuse to delete on the cloud, was created in the last two years alone. At the current rate, the world's data storage capacity will be overtaken by next spring. It will be nothing short of a catastrophe. Data shortages, data rationing, data black markets. Someone's compression will save the world from data-geddon, and it sure as hell better be Nucleus and not goddamn Pied Piper! I don't know about you people, but I don't wanna live i

    • by slew ( 2918 )

      "Data creation is exploding. With all the selfies and useless files people refuse to delete on the cloud, was created in the last two years alone. At the current rate, the world's data storage capacity will be overtaken by next spring. It will be nothing short of a catastrophe. Data shortages, data rationing, data black markets. Someone's compression will save the world from data-geddon, and it sure as hell better be Nucleus and not goddamn Pied Piper! I don't know about you people, but I don't wanna live in a world where someone else makes the world a better place better than we do."

      I think there must be a Mad Max parable in there somewhere... Mad Max: The data warrior?

      It's kind of interesting how the Seven Sisters [wikipedia.org] seem to have parallels to FAMGA (although there are only 5 in FAMGA, 3 of the seven sisters were Standard Oil)...

  • I'm gonna go see if Liara T'Soni needs any information brokers.
  • And just like oil, we need to put a stop in its use. Just like its unethical and illegal to have people unknowingly join as part of an experiment, it should be recognized as unethical and illegal to have people unknowingly offering up the entire contents of their lives, especially when they essentially get absolutely nothing in return.

    Sure, you could argue that a site like WasteBook offers a valuable service to people who pay nothing to use it. However, the core function of the site, is to connect people
  • I'd be curious to know what percentage of clickbait article have built in logical fallacies. My kids used to play this game, would I rather eat worms or have my foot run over by a tractor. Do I have to choose?
  • If you're going to take companies like Amazon, Apple and Microsoft and just lump them under "sellers of data", that's a really broad description, almost to the point of being useless.

    The reason these companies make revenue is because they provide complete "user experiences", making computers and other devices functional and useful. The entire smartphone business relies on Android (Alphabet/Google), iOS (Apple), or a small number of them running Windows Phone (Microsoft).

    Every tablet out there? Same story, e

  • we are expected to reach peak data [wikipedia.org], after which data will irreversibly decline.

  • Most data is
    worth its weight in bitcoins.

  • The lesson to take away from this is that a barrel of oil is worth less than a barrel of data.
  • by BlueCoder ( 223005 ) on Friday May 05, 2017 @11:46PM (#54365995)

    Cheap clean water is the most valuable resource on the planet without a doubt. It is needed and used in every industry. The oil production industry uses a significant amount of it. So does all mining and resource extraction.

    In agriculture in particular obviously we are talking 1000 and 10,000 to 1 ratios for the production of food. A quarter pound of hamburger requires 110 gallons alone. Imagine the amount of energy required to clean that much water and having to include it in the price.

    Incidentally forget about the drought in southern California which is a desert. We get the vast majority of our water from the mountains of northern California. There is plenty of water there even in a "drought". The problem is the farmers in California which produce a significant amount of the worlds food. They are water greedy. People watering their lawns and cars in LA is a drop in the bucket compared to farmers.

  • Because you have to stand somewhere.

    After that it's clean air, then clean water, then clean food.

    Then clothes and shelter.

    And we're compromising our future ability to have all of these things.

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