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The Fourth Industrial Revolution on your doorstep

On any given day, in any given timezone, every action and inaction is being collected, monitored and evaluated in a seemingly endless, ever expanding torrent of data. This data is being used to inform and transform what we read, see and do.  Like it or not, the Fourth Industrial Revolution has arrived at your doorstep and like it or not, the world we thought we knew is evolving at a pace never before experienced by the human race. Artificial Intelligence is already seamlessly interwoven in our day-to-day activities; discretely processing our every move, subtly adjusting the information we see and increasingly interlacing our humanity with technology.

No, I didn’t take the red pill and no, I haven’t fallen down the rabbit hole – it’s 2024 and data is fast becoming our lifeblood and our currency. As individuals, we are leaving a digital footprint, a permanent etching in the data landscape that future dat-archeologists (see what I did there!) will carefully deconstruct and reconstruct to gain a picture of life in the early 21st century. As organisations, we are funding and fuelling this new reality – investing in building our seemingly harmless productivity aides, creating richer and deeper learned machines to predict and construct every future interaction.

I wonder then – assuming we wish this reality to continue, or perhaps being resigned to the fact it already exists – why should we and how do we shift our thinking and build our capability to control technology, when the harsh alternative may be that we might be the ones being controlled? There is already much discussion and debate about the future of work and whether we are prepared for the challenges and opportunities our new economies offer. Some futurists suggest job losses on an unimaginable scale as technologies look to replace repetitive, routine and structured tasks currently being performed by people. Others offer a kinder alternative where technology works with humans to unshackle us from the mundane and to free us to fulfil more creative, humanistic endeavours. Whoever you listen to and whichever side of the argument you find yourself on, one thing is certain: there will be disruption. There already is.

Whilst I am unable, perhaps more so unwilling, to offer my own predictions for the future of work – I will offer an opinion on the resource that will fuel the future of work: data. I recently read somewhere that “data is atomic” – what an apt description of the omnipresent, exponentially increasing digital micro-dust that envelops us. Data is the core of every transaction we make, data is the residue of every interaction we have. We must all learn how to ‘talk data’, we must learn how to communicate using this universal language if we’re to remain on the front foot. Data literacy will fast become our new standard; those who are unable or unwilling to develop this new competency will be at the mercy of technological advancements – however those who acknowledge and embrace this opportunity to future-proof ourselves, our children and our communities will have the key to future prosperity. 

Data literacy is not unattainable, it is not an astronomical leap from our existing knowledge and skills base. It is simply the use and practice of a new language; our ability to read, write and comprehend data. If we have the skills to teach our toddlers and preschoolers how to read, write and comprehend our native language(s), we certainly have the skills to teach ourselves how to read, write and comprehend data. It really is as simple as that. I’m not suggesting that we each need to be able to write the code that controls the artificial intelligence infiltrating our environments – I’m advocating that we all need to understand how we individually and collectively create data, how data is being used to inform and monitor our daily lives, and most importantly I’m challenging us to comprehend and challenge the data around us. We already have the tools and frameworks of education, we need to now adjust our focus and change our language to build and nurture lifelong data literacy. We don’t need university halls and lecture theatres; we need practical and integrated exercises along side our day-to-day activities. We don’t need four years of isolated study and instruction, we need constant and consistent assimilation and opportunity to practice and refine our ability to read, write and comprehend data. 

The urgent and rapidly mounting need for data literacy has progressed beyond the analysts, strategists and data scientists. It’s time to build and nurture lifelong data literacy – universal data literacy across all ages and communities – if we are to thrive.


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