Article by Gunter Pauli
Author of The Blue Economy
Founder of the ZERI Network
The introduction of an internet based on light represents an exceptional opportunity to launch a completely new model: “Sustainable Data Farming”. This concept offers a chance to reverse “big datamining” which exploits every single piece of data with total disregard of dignity or privacy of the data provider who unknowingly signs off on a total hand-over of every detail of his/her life for analysis and resale in return for a free search engine, email address, or social media account. If there is a political goodwill that has the individual as a priority, and the entrepreneurial spirit as a guidance, then the existing light infrastructure can evolve into the core platform for data transmission. If this logic is pursued then we can cut energy consumption at least ten fold, democratize the internet, and we will turn the table on the existing powers. Just like the statement made about petroleum: we are not against, rather we are in favor of better. At the center stands the concept of “data farming”.
Just like the land is fertile since microorganisms, mushrooms, mosses, insects and plants interact with water, air and soil, data farming offers a rich understanding of the interactions within a family and a community. This content accompanied with sense and sensitivity will never be matched by IoT. This data is first and foremost local and can be collected into “pods” as Berners-Lee calls them. This permits the Internet of Things to evolve into the internet of and for people. Ultimately we hope that this will emerge as the Internet of Life (including people but also considering every other living species that is part of the ecosystem).
At the core of data farming is the understanding that “Life is learning”. And learning is finding connections that you did not see before. The key building blocks of the new internet as operated by the ten largest enterprises are (1) data collection, and (2) the Cloud. There is a third building block of the internet of tomorrow: (3) learning. While the first two are centrally controlled and are rather easy to control by the dominant internet operators, the third “learning” is where the dataminers are clearly and badly underperforming. This leaves a unique window of opportunities for local initiatives to stand up and perform in data services.
Learning about life cannot be done in the Cloud, unless you totally neglect culture, tradition, geography, and the ecosystems on which life depends in each part of the world. Learning can only succeed through interaction of people who live and share within a local and cultural context. So it is the time and place-based learning where data farming, even at a small and local scale can outperform the grand dataminers. How? Because real learning is by definition local and interactive! Learning cannot be centralized in supercomputers with loads of historic and user data exploited by smart algorithms, or even Artificial Intelligence. Learning builds on local culture and intelligence first, the capacity to grasp where and how people live. That is why data farming is in the first place offering a chance to build community and celebrate culture and tradition, instead of globalizing the world with the same games and uniform multiple choice questions that force children to regurgitate the known answers instead of discovering the questions to which there are no answers.
It is surprising that the giants of informatics have invested massively in infrastructure to gather data, and in the Cloud to store and process data to fit the same uniform criteria. These conditions offer dataminers the capacity to manage proprietary data. However, they do not invest at all – nor have the capacity to date – in learning systems. Their highly centralized approach greatly handicaps them learn from systems that permit to adjust to the local conditions and create a real empowerment to undertake a betterment of life. This is the competitive advantage that represents an unparalleled opportunity for data farming to emerge and operate successful in immediate vicinity of communities. Learning makes sense out of complexity and diversity for the common good, which is by definition different for each community.
This core concept has been worked on by pioneers of chatting services like Guillaume Asselot, the founder of Tree Chat, a game-ified chat for collaborative data gathering that starts within a small community and leads to joint actions through and seeing the connections. The chat grows just like trees where ideas emerge and merge until there is sufficient fertile to blossom, and pass on to action. Just like the tree in the central market sets the stage for a community around which local life evolves simply by providing shade and majestic beauty, this Tree Chat permits a natural and spontaneous evolution of information to gather and to increase in relevance. As people discover the common interests and a common vision in their communities, or simple and basic needs that were not recognized before, the local data farming takes root. It starts local and small scale by learning about each other.
From Global and Exclusive to Local and Human Scale
Data farming is local. While a data farm may seem insignificant, we may need to be reminded that the macro-economy is the amalgam of the micro-economy. Just like one tree is only a tree, and a flower is only a flower, a few trees, bushes, mosses and grasses evolve into a resilient and efficient ecosystem with a continuous enrichment of its biodiversity thanks to feedback loops and multiplier effects. Just like farmers created cooperatives and communities to jointly purchase materials, process the harvest, and sell together with the aim of having better revenues, strengthening the bargaining power, all at once we realize that the same can be undertaken with data.
The parallel logic is powerful: every house – even in shanty towns has light. Each light should be the most efficient LED saving energy like never before, that is equipped with a chip that permits to process and transmit data. This technology is available today. Technologies however are not the game changers. The business model that deploys clusters of technologies are the real frameworks that permit to transform reality.
Each device, from a phone to a tablet, a video game toolbox or a home television set can connect over the light network to a central server at home, or with a friendly neighbor. Today’s laptop computers have enough power to assume that role. This can quickly grow into a collective patchwork of small servers located in basements or attics without using any of the existing radio waves. Instead we can use existing copper cables which run through every house and every room. Later, when time is ripe, these can be complemented with optical fibers and expand to a patchwork of connected lights, laptops and LANs (local area networks).
Let us be clear: we are not against radio waves! We are in favor of high speed and volume, the democratization and inclusiveness of the internet, the sharing of the revenues from data farming, and especially controlling our own data as well as participate in the revenues associated. We wish to farm information into a useful set of interrelated facts permitting a better understanding of how to live sustainable, creative, healthier, even happier, and how to be of service, building resilience and strengthening the common good. This is not a romantic view, but rather a vision that can be rendered reality immediately thanks to its simplicity of execution: one data farm at the time.
From Concept to Reality
A few families can work together and join a community data farm with the support of a small village on the countryside, a city ward or a block that is part of a megalopolis. In a traditional framework of internet, there is the protocol known as the API (Application Programming Interface), which permits to access and exchange information. This is made available to small players on the internet who are keen on integrating themselves into the grand information networks like Google and Amazon. For example: the Metro of Paris, one of the giants of data, has an API agreement with Google. Since travelers will question Google (and not the Metro) on how to get from the airport to downtown, the Paris metro offers all its data for free to Google! Google then reserves the right to datamine this vast amount of Q&A generated thanks to the free provision of information by the metro company. The Metro, under the present legal framework has no leverage to negotiate Therefore, even as host of the Olympic Games in 2024, the Metro permits Google and others not just the free access to its updated information, it also allows to exploit all the data that can be mined and earn royally from online advertising.
Data farming as proposed, will create a shift in the concentration of power. The small and yet so valuable information of every detail of life that used to be captured through millions of applications could be hidden from large data companies through carefully designed data farms. At first, this will happen unnoticed. To the operators of datamining the amount of data lost is totally insignificant. However, this small intervention at a local scale could quickly grow into fertile tiny “data” veggie gardens where the “tomatoes” for local consumption are the local data built-up over time and connected with other related facts of high relevance for the local community. Everyone has the chance to discover new connections and has an opportunity to learn, steering the citizens to discover their potential, preferences and opportunities. Veggie gardens can grow under the canopy of trees protected from the harsh sun.
Each simple detail that anyone in town likes to consult about the services of the city, the music that the local community loves to hear, played by local musicians who will be discovered for the first time, the arts programs that are offered by local amateurs (who are often very professional), the transportation time tables, the hospital schedule, the local sports agenda. This information is farmed. It grows and is harvested with a most interesting factor: dramatic reduction in energy consumption and an end to this unparalleled control of data. How is this possible?
The End of Data Globetrotting
If you land in Tokyo, and do not understand the language, you query Google in your preferred language on how to get to your hotel. Even though Japan has an amazing fiber optic network and a very well functioning mobile telephony with some of the most professional companies like NTT, NTT Data and Softbank, a question entered on a phone in Narita or Haneda Airport travels through these companies around the globe, and is ultimately stored in at least 3 servers in unknown overseas locations. This needless shipment of data helps fill up the trans-Pacific optical fiber cables and its mirrored storage consumes so much energy emitting an excessive amount of carbon. Thousands of simultaneous demands are popping up all around the airport and one million questions are captured in 40 million data units: who, from where, whereto, time, arriving from … This flow of information covering every imaginable subject fills the data pipelines, and builds up the data tanks. If one were to use the data farming concept then the info on Tokyo Airport needed by someone in Tokyo Airport is responded to immediately from Tokyo Airport, and kept on local servers. Makes sense?
Actually it does make so much sense to mitigate the clogging of the information pipelines with so much data moving across oceans that only has one purpose: feed a dozen data miners. This subsequently puts pressure to build more transoceanic cables and to facilitate more infringement on privacy.
Data transmission companies supply the largest data mining companies an ever increasing amount of details on the life of billions. These local operators will seek investments, permits and guaranteed revenues from governments in order to unknowingly export all the national data out of the country. The data is not sent once, but many times over and kept on foreign servers. Data miners will even request government subsidies for transoceanic cables. If you analyze the legislation that accompanies these activities then we realize that citizens are data suppliers and are treated like slaves: no voice and no rights.
If on the other hand, the data is processed locally through the light infrastructure without the need for wireless communication or the global fiber optic cable networking, not even the satellite connectivity, then the information is gathered on site only (like a home, a community or an airport), and controlled on site. Thus, the relationship between data supply and data demand is direct, without intermediaries, nor analysis with the sole aim to sell and feed consumerism spurred by online sales where everything is available with a click.
The data farming is not only about our privacy, the capacity to learn about our own use and needs, it is like organic farming: ensuring that we replenish the soil, the community without an excessive consumption of energy. This permits to safeguard the integrity of the information and the privacy of the supplier and create a platform to learn about one self and become resilient by knowing who you are and what is really needed.
From Local Farming to AgroForestry of Data
Data farming will ensure local composting, cross fertilization, natural hybrids, local pest and viral control through simple interventions with complementary species, avoiding at all cost to go for monocultures and economies of scale. This puts a stop to pests and replenishes the soil. Just like the parallel of datamining and petroleum holds up all too well, so does the comparison between data farming and local organic farming. Just as if all the nutrients are gone from the local soil and we rely on a global food supply highly dependent on fertilizers, so we could understand the comparable logic that all data will be gone and local communities are deprived of their livelihood.
Local data farming secures growing and understanding local resources, the local weather and the social tissue that permits to have a captive and stable community. It is like an ongoing search for ever better, for synergies and complementarities. A network of data farms evolve into data agroforestry, with pillars of common interest structured around centers for data that are analogue to water, seed banks, localized weather forecast and sources of shade. Do we realize that a forest generates 500 tons of biomass per hectare per year often starting with a very poor soil that is enriched over time into a lush ecosystem, while a monoculture farming of soy and corn can barely provide 10 tons of biomass per year and depletes the soil, increasingly dependent on outside supply of chemistry, fertilizers, and even genetics. Data farming versus data mining represents exactly the same.
The revolution of data farming and data agroforestry sets the stage of how data gathering can be inspired by ecosystems and natural farming, not just the computational skills. It is the business model as well as the societal model that underpins this transition. Just as a fast urbanization facilitated datamining, re-ruralization or the return to life within the carrying capacity will promote data farming. This enriches the local community, using local clusters of information that offer a solid backbone to a resilient society with a culture of lifelong learning. The community masters all its data, provides all key available information locally without cluttering servers and fiber optic networks while saving up to 90% in energy. Now the internet turns into the promotor of the most efficient lights that merge with routers into one local data relay that is so precise, even unhackable that it makes 5G antennas look like dinosaurs even before their massive rollout.
Most important: this data farming sets up the communities to control their data, to protect their privacy but also to set them up to learn and to earn their fair share of income that is today totally beyond their grasp.
A search for the latest results of the Football Club Barcelona brings you to the website of the club. It only lets you read any of their public information if the visitor permits their system to insert over and above the cookies the growers is using an additional 788 cookies. These cookies are classified in detail as: 221 strictly necessary which you cannot refuse, 30 to add functionality, 194 for analysis and 343 behavioral advertising. Thanks to the European Union’s efforts you can decline 567, but not the first 221! The nearly 2,000 cookies within just 2 clicks from connecting to Bing and Barcelona is what is required to learn about the latest scores of your favorite club. This hard reality offers you an idea how far datamining has turned sophisticated. We suspect that a brand like FC Barcelona is able to put some pressure on Bing and Google to share the pot of gold, and that the search engines have advised Barcelona how to get more data and money out of the enthused fans. You and I are merely fodder for the system.
Therefore, it is time to focus on the new concept of data farming. Actually, this is not so new, it is the way the internet operated in its infant stage. Conscious communities, aware of the dramatic and adverse effects of datamining for privacy and the local economy have the capacity to create an enriching learning environment where discoveries are made and challenges are continuously addressed with care and attention for the common good, building resilience. Local entrepreneurs could create the initial building blocks of this novel approach, starting with a proprietary platform for data farming based on light transmissions. And, there are thousands (even millions) that will quickly join to build on open source concepts from software to hardware to facilitate access and governance. No one expects this to be a roaring success from the outset, however this will create a small opening into the world market of datamining. Just like a few cities in the world decided to aim early on for carbon neutrality and some companies want to be recognized as pioneers in zero emissions, communities will pioneer the data farming. Along the same logic, more and more “minorities” wake up to the fact that datamining permeated in a matter of a decade all our digital lives. Datafarming as a way of life, a new culture of caring for one and the other’s data, could follow the same path and prepare for a life long learning. While both datamining and data farming could live in the same space, at least – people are offered a choice.
Once data farming communities can exchange in all transparency, they will be able to build a diverse community that welcomes different opinions and where the points of view can be emotional, scientific or business-like, but all are respected. There is no private entity that dictates the rules to the participants and the community in small print and overt threats. On the contrary it is the community and its citizens that determine the core conditions that set the framework. Since there is such a proximity of all participants, and the platform is thriving on continuous learning that the overall spirit of the data farming permits everyone to contribute to the health and resilience, even those we do not understand. We can even look our neighbors into the eye and smile. And that is contagious.
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