Your Data Is Crucial to a Robotic Age. Shouldn’t You Be Paid for It?

The New York Times: “The idea has been around for a bit. Jaron Lanier, the tech philosopher and virtual-reality pioneer who now works for Microsoft Research, proposed it in his 2013 book, “Who Owns the Future?,” as a needed corrective to an online economy mostly financed by advertisers’ covert manipulation of users’ consumer choices.

It is being picked up in “Radical Markets,” a book due out shortly from Eric A. Posner of the University of Chicago Law School and E. Glen Weyl, principal researcher at Microsoft. And it is playing into European efforts to collect tax revenue from American internet giants.

In a report obtained last month by Politico, the European Commission proposes to impose a tax on the revenue of digital companies based on their users’ location, on the grounds that “a significant part of the value of a business is created where the users are based and data is collected and processed.”

Users’ data is a valuable commodity. Facebook offers advertisers precisely targeted audiences based on user profiles. YouTube, too, uses users’ preferences to tailor its feed. Still, this pales in comparison with how valuable data is about to become, as the footprint of artificial intelligence extends across the economy.

Data is the crucial ingredient of the A.I. revolution. Training systems to perform even relatively straightforward tasks like voice translation, voice transcription or image recognition requires vast amounts of data — like tagged photos, to identify their content, or recordings with transcriptions.

“Among leading A.I. teams, many can likely replicate others’ software in, at most, one to two years,” notes the technologist Andrew Ng. “But it is exceedingly difficult to get access to someone else’s data. Thus data, rather than software, is the defensible barrier for many businesses.”

We may think we get a fair deal, offering our data as the price of sharing puppy pictures. By other metrics, we are being victimized: In the largest technology companies, the share of income going to labor is only about 5 to 15 percent, Mr. Posner and Mr. Weyl write. That’s way below Walmart’s 80 percent. Consumer data amounts to work they get free….

The big question, of course, is how we get there from here. My guess is that it would be naïve to expect Google and Facebook to start paying for user data of their own accord, even if that improved the quality of the information. Could policymakers step in, somewhat the way the European Commission did, demanding that technology companies compute the value of consumer data?…(More)”.