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12 October 2017

Blog on the Guernsey Data Conference 1.0


There are no business sectors that could have failed to recognise the exponential growth of technology and artificial intelligence. StartUp Guernsey – the States of Guernsey’s arm to help business ideas get off the ground and flourish – hosted the first ever ‘big data’ conference in Guernsey on Monday.

 The event brought together experts across the field of Fintech to consider Guernsey’s business opportunities in this rapidly expanding global tech future.

It is important to understand what we mean by big data – it is a concept that refers to extremely large data sets that can be analysed through technology to reveal patterns and trends especially relating to human behaviour and interactions. In normal parlance it is what is already happening – algorithms in place to analyse each of us and our online lives – what we do, where we live, what we buy, how we feel, what behaviours we display and then feed that knowledge through to get us to do things or to influence our decision-making. Sounds scary doesn’t it? What is in no doubt is that big data and artificial intelligence is here to stay and evolve and get more and more embedded in our lives.

The day was utterly compelling and posed some very big questions around the changes that are coming in human and machine interaction – including moral ones. Key topics covered included blockchain, eGov, digital identity, applications and impact of big data, data protection and law.

Unsurprisingly Marc Winn from Guernsey’s Dandelion Foundation (determined to make Guernsey the best place to live on earth by 2020) urged the audience to consider the social, compassionate and humane elements required to use big data wisely and to apply technology to help the world be happier and healthier.

One quote sums up his position clearly. He said: “Post Las Vegas should the issue be about banning guns, when people will soon be able to make machine guns on their home 3D printers, or should it be about solving loneliness?”

After Marc it was a day of two halves really. Many speakers demonstrated just how Guernsey is using big data and identifying the opportunities for our future from block chain development to creating global data centres on our little island to innovative ways of using AI and big data to enhance our corporate lives.

Northern Trust’s Steve Billinghurst outlined NT’s block chain innovation – the first of its kind in the world.

Telecom CEO at JT, Graeme Millar, painted the world of ultimate connectivity, businesses monitoring our every move to make key decisions about their relationships with us and a frictionless, paperless future where almost everything is conducted online.

States of Guernsey’s chief information officer, Colin Vaudin, outlined just how far our government had come with eGov applications. He said that Guernsey was already a data-driven economy and would continue to grow in this area. He said the States was running pilots trialling how AI solutions and big data will impact our island lives from health and social implications to practical stuff.

FCG’s chief information officer too had a first having created and developed of a major piece of enterprise and innovation - the bespoke insurance platform, Focus, on which its UK motor broker 1st CENTRAL sits. It monitors user behaviour and reacts within an hour to serve up online what that specific customer wants.

Tag Team’s Jay Almer showcased an astounding piece of tech which will simultaneously manage crowd control, security and first aid for the 10 million pilgrims, who make the Haj pilgrimage every year, using 3D mapping, real time monitoring to virtual goggles allowing spotting problems before there is ever an issue.

While each of the speakers did touch on the absolute need for protection of the consumer, and protection of systems from breach, I did start to wonder if all this big data progress was a runaway train where Big Brother is just around the corner.

Then along came the lawyer, the data protection commissioner and the financial regulator to sober everyone up. Bedell Cristin’s Jon Barclay was upbeat and said that Guernsey’s legal framework (albeit with minor tweaking) was up to the job of enabling the data economy.

DPC information commissioner Emma Martins was a fascinating speaker.

“The internet has reshaped how humanity communicates. Big data is different. It marks a transformation in how society processes information and this is only the beginning,” she said.

She painted a world of AI profiling everyone and taking legal, political and social decisions on that data likening a possible future to the film Minority Report. She made the case well for data protection – not as a barrier to innovation but as a tool to addressing the potential dark side of big data and ensuring protections are in place for all of us. She advocated that it is the human element that must remain at the heart of the new world - creativity, intuition, intellectual ambition, morality.

Her position was summed up beautifully when she said: “We are far cleverer than Siri; big data informs rather than explains; big data and AI has a lot to offer, if we pool artificial and human intelligence.”

The key note address by William Mason was interesting in that he took a harder line on the needs for regulation and protection – not a huge surprise from the Guernsey Financial Services Commission director general!

His Big Data and the Paradox of Regulation and Freedom presentation painted a potentially dystopian world a la George Orwell’s 1984 cautioning that big data could threaten human rights. He advocated fierce protection of those human rights from the unmediated use of big data and recommended sensible, appropriate regulation to prevent this from happening.

What was clear at the conference was the impressive number of people in Guernsey spear-heading activity in all areas around big data. The future is going to look so very different and it looks like Guernsey’s pioneering spirit to invent new income streams and ways of thriving is in safe hands.



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