FlyTitle: The data economy

A deluge of data is giving rise to a new economy. Ludwig Siegele asks how it will work

数据的洪流正在催生一种新经济。记者路德维格·西格勒探究它将如何运作【专题报道《数据经济》系列之一】

镜像世界 Mirror worlds-书迷号 shumihao.com

AN ARMY OF doppelgangers is invading the world. Digital copies of aircraft engines, wind turbines and other heavy equipment came first. Now the electronic ghosts of smaller and larger things are joining them in the virtual realm, from toothbrushes and traffic lights to entire shops and factories. Even humans have begun developing these alter egos. In America the National Football League is planning to design an electronic avatar for every player.

一个魂灵大军正在入侵世界。率先抵达的是飞机引擎、风力涡轮机和其他重型设备的数字副本。现在,比它们更小或更大的物品的电子幽灵也加入了“虚拟界”,从牙刷、交通信号灯,到整间商店和工厂。连人类也已开始发展“另一个自我”。在美国,国家橄榄球联盟(NFL)正计划为每个球员设计电子化身。

These “digital twins”, as geeks term them, are far more than replicas of the original. Think of them more as shadows that are, thanks to a multitude of sensors and wireless connectivity, intimately linked to their physical selves, and every day producing oceans of data. If something happens in the real world, it is rapidly reflected in this shadow realm. Some digital twins already come with the laws of nature programmed in. They double as a database of everything that has ever happened to the original. This makes it possible to look into their future. Sports coaches, for instance, will be able to run simulations, predict when an athlete might get injured and adjust training routines to avoid problems.

这些极客口中的“数字孪生体”远不只是其原型的复制品。它们更像影子,依赖众多传感器和无线连接,紧紧跟随实体自我,每天生成海量数据。如果现实世界中发生了某些事,也会迅速地反映在这个影子王国中。一些数字孪生体的内部已经设定了自然法则。它们同时也是记载原型身上所发生一切的数据库。由此就可以窥探它们的未来。例如,体育教练将能够运行模拟实验,预测队员何时可能受伤,并调整训练安排以避免出现问题。

Digital twins are just one part of a vast shift in the world’s economy. They populate what David Gelernter of Yale University long ago forecast as “mirror worlds”: a new dimension of human life based on and fuelled by data. Year by year, ever more parts of the physical realm are coming to be represented and simulated in the virtual world—an inversion of Plato’s theory that real-world objects are just imperfect copies of their true being in the spiritual realm. The emergence of these mirror worlds will bring about a distinct economy. This development will require new markets, institutions, infrastructure, businesses and even geopolitical arrangements. It is the promises and pitfalls of the new “data economy” which will be the focus of this special report.

数字孪生体只是世界经济发生巨变的一部分。它们填充了耶鲁大学的大卫·盖伦特(David Gelernter)在很久以前就预言的“镜像世界”:一个基于数据、受数据驱动的人类生活的新维度。时间一年年过去,实体世界中越来越多的部分正在虚拟界中被展现和模拟,这颠倒了柏拉图的理念——柏拉图认为现实世界不过是真实的精神领域的不完美投影。镜像世界的崛起将带来一种独特的经济。其发展将需要新的市场、机构、基础设施、企业,乃至地缘政治布局。这种新“数据经济”的希望和陷阱将是本专题关注的重点。

Mirror worlds are not mere mathematical representations of real ones. They also give new meaning to the adage that knowledge is power. Increasingly, digital copies are taking on lives of their own and acting on the physical world. They can be used to optimise everything, from the acoustics of a headset to an entire national railway network. They will enable all sorts of artificial-intelligence (AI) algorithms to recognise objects and faces, understand speech and even distinguish smells. And they make possible new business models: why buy heavy equipment if its wear and tear can be measured in detail and it can thus be rented by the minute?

镜像世界不止是现实世界的数学呈现。它们也赋予了“知识就是力量”这句谚语新的含义。数字副本正在日益壮大自己的生命,并作用于现实世界。它们可被用于优化各种事物——从耳机的音效到整个国家的铁路网。它们将使得各种人工智能(AI)算法能够识别物体和人脸,理解语音,甚至区分气味。它们也催生了新的商业模式:如果可以细致地测量重型设备损耗的程度,并可以据此按分钟数租用,那又何须购买呢?

A good place to start analysing any economy is by measuring it. A robust methodology has yet to be developed, but the data economy is already large. Statistics Canada, a government agency, last year tried to estimate the value of the country’s data (its stock plus related software and intellectual property in the field). The result was between C$157bn and C$218bn ($118bn and $164bn). If that number is close—a big “if”—the value of all the data in America, whose GDP is 12 times that of Canada, could amount to $1.4trn-2trn, which would be nearly 5% of America’s stock of private physical capital.

要分析任何一种经济类型,一个好的起点是测量它。目前尚未开发出可靠的研究方法,但数据经济的规模已然很庞大。政府机构加拿大统计局去年尝试估算该国拥有数据(数据总量加上相关的软件以及该领域内的知识产权)的价值。结论是介于1570亿加元至2180亿加元之间(1180亿美元至1640亿美元)。如果这个数字接近真实状况(这一点很不确定),那么在GDP是加拿大12倍的美国,所有数据的价值可能达到1.4万亿至2万亿美元,是美国私人有形资本存量的近5%。

If the amount of data generated around the world is any guide, this new economy is growing fast. The first human genome (three gigabytes of data, which nearly fills a DVD) was sequenced 17 years ago; in April, 23andMe, a firm which offers genetic testing, claimed more than 10m customers. The latest autonomous vehicles produce up to 30 terabytes for every eight hours of driving (or some 6,400 DVDs). IDC, a market-research firm, estimates the world will generate about 90 zettabytes (19trn DVDs) this year and next (see chart), more than all data produced since the advent of computers.

如果说全世界生成的数据量给出了任何指引,那就是这种新经济正在快速发展。第一个人类基因组(3GB数据,几乎填满一张DVD)在17年前完成测序。去年4月,提供基因检测的23andMe公司声称顾客超过1000万人。最新的无人驾驶汽车每行驶八小时生成多达30TB的数据(或约6400张DVD)。市场调研公司IDC估计今明两年全球共将生成约90ZB数据(19万张DVD)(见图表),超过自计算机问世以来生成的数据总量。

镜像世界 Mirror worlds-书迷号 shumihao.com

Yet even more striking than the rapid growth of the data economy are the tensions and trade-offs it produces. Take its economics. In some ways, data are a natural resource, much like oil, which can be owned and traded (this newspaper called data the “world’s most valuable resource” in 2017). But data also have characteristics of a public good, which ought to be used as widely as possible to maximise wealth creation. New institutions must be created to reflect this tension, as was the case for intellectual property.

然而,与数据经济的快速增长相比,更引人注目的是它制造的矛盾局面和权衡取舍。比如它的经济形态。从某些方面来说,数据是一种自然资源,和可以被拥有和交易的石油很像(本刊在2017年曾称数据是“世界上最具价值的资源”)。但数据也具有公共物品的特征,应尽可能广泛地利用它们,以最大程度地创造财富。与知识产权的情况一样,必须建立新机构来反映这种矛盾。

The infrastructure of the data economy, too, is torn between two poles. Currently, it mainly consists of huge data centres packed with servers where data are stored and crunched. Yet such centralisation has drawbacks, not least because it consumes huge amounts of energy and creates privacy risks. A decentralising counter-movement is already under way: more data are processed at the “edge”, closer to where they are collected.

数据经济的基础设施同样分裂为两个极端。当前,它主要由大型数据中心组成,这些数据中心里装满了存储和处理数据的服务器。但这种集中化有其弊端,主要是因为大量消耗能源并造成隐私风险。一种去中央化的反向设计已经在铺开,更多数据在较接近收集它们的位置的“边缘”地带被处理。

Businesses are also facing a digital reversal. Many firms want to use data to infuse their corporate applications with AI. They have built central repositories such as “data lakes”, which hold all kinds of digital information. Such systems are of limited use, however, if a firm and its employees lack the required skills, refuse to believe the data or even to share them internally.

企业也面临着数字挫折。许多公司希望利用数据来给自己的企业应用注入AI。它们建立了中央存储库,比如“数据湖”,其中存储了各种各样的数字信息。但是,如果公司及其员工缺乏所需的技能,拒绝相信数据,甚至拒绝在内部共享它们,那么这种系统用处有限。

Finally, the geopolitics of data will not be simple, either. Online giants in particular have assumed that the data economy will be a global affair, with the digital stuff flowing to where processing is best done for technical and cost reasons. Yet governments are increasingly asserting their “digital sovereignty”, demanding that data not leave their country of origin.

最后,数据的地缘政治也不会是桩简单事。网络巨头们尤其已经假定数据经济将是一个全球事务,而数字材料纷纷流向那些出于技术和成本考量最适合处理它们的地方。然而各国政府日益主张“数字主权”,要求数据不离开其“原籍国”。

This special report will tackle these topics in turn. It will conclude by discussing what is perhaps the biggest conundrum of the mirror world: the risk is that the wealth it creates will be even more unequally distributed than in its terrestrial twin.■

本专题报告将逐一探讨这些问题。它还会在末尾讨论或许是镜像世界最大的谜题:相比在它的现实孪生体中,它所创造的财富的分配将更不平等。