The Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal

What do data and creativity have in common?

Data is a language that helps us understand the world and decipher new elements in a digital environment. It helps us see things differently, it fuels our creativity. It’s a resource that is accessible to any professional who wants to better understand their sector, clients, employees, and their own society. It allows them to envision the future and identify business opportunities. Not seizing the opportunities offered by data is to turn down innovation and the chance to gain a competitive edge.

Why is data becoming more popular?

The current fervour surrounding data is related to our era’s technology and the possibilities it inspires. However, professionals have been collecting data for a very long time. Statisticians are able to analyze data and identify trends which are then examined by marketers in order to seize business opportunities. Others can utilize data to depict concepts that help explain societal events. What has changed? Why is data so popular right now?

Technological advances have made it possible for humans to start digitizing everything. The collection of information, in real-time, has been renamed data or big data. Experts realized they needed to change the nomenclature because the collection and use of information is undergoing a revolution. Data is now an incredibly fertile terrain to recreate or reinvent our world.

This continuous stream of information is encoded in a language of 0s and 1s that make up the data stored in powerful machines. These machines are then capable of reassembling, with more or less accuracy and at the request of the humans who program these machines, the information collected into various formats: a sound, movement, photo, or a so-called “artificial” intelligence.

We’re quickly realizing that everything can be turned into data: economic, geographic, commercial, environmental data, as well as any media produced in history. From paintings created during the Renaissance, to radio recordings from the 1920s, to the thousands of hours of YouTube videos watched every day. Everything has the potential to enrich these databases in real-time.

Data affects every industry

For innovators, managers, and entrepreneurs, issues related to data are not merely technical, nor are they purely speculative. Every person who woks in an organization must understand the significance of data, at least in the way that it impacts their daily activities. Carrying out market studies and surveys, analyzing commercial data, and assessing the needs of clients are no longer sufficient. I’d say these can mislead us more than they can enlighten us.

In this vein, the Data is the new oil metaphor keeps being brought up these days, because it describes the creative potential of transforming data into new and innovative products and usages. It is completely in tune with the science of creativity. It is up to every one of us to learn and adopt modern methodologies of creation if we really believe in the possibility of a better tomorrow, a world that is more fair and healthy.

What role will humans play?

Beyond knowing how to use data, to understand it, and leverage it into business opportunities, we need to wonder how humans will fit into this increasingly technological world. In a world of automation and artificial intelligence, what role will professionals play? I can reassure you that they will have a larger and more engaged role to play. Society will have a greater need for human intelligence, because only humans can be creative and ethical. This is where the term culture data fits in.

We need to keep in mind that machines only learn what humans tell them to learn. Even when it comes to artificial intelligence allowing machines to learn from their own experience, the learning algorithm was first and foremost designed by a human. Artificial intelligence was born from human creativity. A machine is not spontaneous or unpredictable. On the contrary, it is constant, logical, and rational. From a statistical point of view, if we look at the example of two data sets that are significantly correlated, only a human will be able to dig deeper in the field to understand if causality is at play. Behind a figure, data, there is always a reality and often lots of humanity. The professional will frequently be called upon to be the investigator who can come up with the solution to fix this problem or turn it into an opportunity. Data remains a tool that can help us accomplish certain tasks. The more organizations will be able to automate these simple and repetitive tasks, the more time human beings will have to think about complex problems that only humans can resolve.

The increasing use of data also pushes our societies to take ethical stances. Let’s take the example of self-driving cars. When the machine detects a potential collision between two cars, what decision will it make? Which car will have to take the hit and risk the death of its passenger? What if the passenger in one car was a pregnant woman and the passenger in the other car was a man with three children? How will the machine decide? This dilemma pushes us to develop algorithms that take into account ethics. But will these codes of ethics differ based on nationality, culture, personal experience, or other variables? Can you see the challenges that we will face?

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