What is the most valuable commodity today? The answer might surprise you. To put this inquiry in context, let’s begin with a little history. For decades, ever since the Bretton Wood Accords in 1944, the US dollar served as the global pricing mechanism for nations the world over based on one key product. “When it comes to economic development, the most influential commodity on Earth is oil,” writes FXCM, a leading provider of online foreign exchange. “Oil is viewed as the lifeblood of economic growth, with its availability being a key driver of a nation's prosperity.”
But things have changed in recent years. Oil has been dethroned. "For the first time, according to Bloomberg data, the five highest-value companies in the world are all in the tech industry,” writes Mack Gelber for Monster. The Economist agrees. “The World’s Most Valuable Resource is No Longer Oil, But Data,” goes a recent headline.
This sea change in commodities valuation has big implications for humanity. There is a good reason why Scottish Essayist Thomas Carlyle described economics as the “dismal science.” Conventional wisdom has long held that values are tied to scarcity. The less there is of something the more its monetary worth. It took millions of years of natural processes to produce oil. There is therefore little chance we’ll generate more of it any time soon — the best we can do is seek out untapped deposits.
Data, on the other hand, is not scarce. Humans create more of by the second. It's time for a new question: how can it be that something infinite in availability is more valuable than something finite? Robert Grant, CEO of Crown Sterling, a digital cryptography firm, has the answer. “It comes down to control of the data,” he says in an interview for the new book I am writing, 21 Ways Life Will Change Tomorrow, with Neil Sahota, an SME on AI for the United Nations. “A small handful of companies closely guard this commodity.”
Google and Facebook come to mind as such stewards of data. Along with other big tech companies, like Apple and Amazon, they're responsible for displacing ExxonMobil from the top five spots in annual earnings. However, many other organizations derive revenues from the monetization of data that comes from folks like you and me.
So how have companies handled such responsibility? Not well, it seems. “In the first half of 2018 alone, it’s estimated over 4.5 billion digital records were stolen or exposed,” explains Joseph Hopkins, COO of Crown Sterling. “More importantly, this crisis shows no signs of stopping. And in fact, may be worsening. Already 2019 has witnessed major breaches at the Oklahoma Department of Securities, Flipboard and First American Corporation, releasing sensitive information, including bank account numbers, tax records, social security numbers and wire transaction receipts.”
Knowing more breaches are coming — as well as the fact our data is now the world’s most valuable commodity — isn’t it time we had a public discussion on this topic? Shoshana Zuboff, author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, thinks so. Her book, published in 2019, exactly 70 years after novelist George Orwell, warned of government surveillance dangers in his novel 1984, exposes the threat against the public. “Surveillance capitalism unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioral data,” writes Zuboff. “Although some of these data are applied to service improvement, the rest are declared as a proprietary behavioral surplus, fed into advanced manufacturing processes known as ‘machine intelligence’, and fabricated into prediction products that anticipate what you will do now, soon, and later.”
In her book, Zuboff also draws parallels between our technological era and the previous industrial age in which market forces advanced the fortunes of some while exploiting the many, leading the call for more protections. "We find ourselves again at a similar crossroads," says Hopkins. "One in which data rights must be seen as human rights."
Dubbed the “most important change in data privacy in 20 years,” the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect May 2018 to safeguard all EU citizens’ privacy from data breaches with stiff fines for organizations that do not comply. As an example of just one protective feature, the GDPR inhibits opaque verbiage from user agreements: “The conditions for consent have been strengthened, and companies are no longer able to use long illegible terms and conditions full of legalese. The request for consent must be given in an intelligible and easily accessible form, with the purpose for data processing attached to that consent.”
Back in the US, a handful of states is also enacting sweeping legislation empowering consumer privacy rights. As a result of scandals, such as the Cambridge Analytica fiasco, involving the manipulation of Facebook data, California passed the Consumer Privacy Act A.B. 375. Going into effect January 1, 2020, it offers a slew of protections, including the right to request deletion of personal information. Like the GDPR, the penalties are also stiff for infringements, including civil penalties up to $7,500 per violation.
Inherent in the California law is a broad new definition of personal information, including an individual’s identifiers, biometric data, internet browsing history and geolocation, leading to what may be deemed an expanded conception of personhood in the 21st century. “We are expanding what it means to be a human being,” says Grant. “Along with the traditional self, you now have a digital persona that needs some degree of protection.”
Grant’s notion of data sovereignty extends beyond the individual, however, to include businesses, even nations. “At the end of the day, whomever creates the data is doing work that leads to its value and should be its owner,” he says. “The same thing applies to companies and countries. There is mass exploitation going on right now across the board. When we talk about data sovereignty, there are essentially two market segments affected by this issue. One is consumers; their primary concern is privacy. When it comes to the enterprise side, their issue is security. Either way, they face the same challenge: how to better protect themselves.”
Defying convention, Grant has arisen to take up the fight for data sovereignty in a surprising twist of fate. Not long ago, he was primarily known in the business world for his C-Suite accomplishments. The onetime CEO/President of Bausch and Lomb Surgical, he previously served as president of Allergan Medical, both billion-dollar organizations. What may have been less known is Grant’s polymathic tendencies. An accomplished sculptor, artist and musician who can fluently speak eight languages, he holds patents and intellectual property in the fields of DNA and phenotypic expression, human cybernetic implantology, biophotonics and electromagnetism.
Then one day, he discovered new math that would transform encryption. “I found a new type of number that, using a particular geometry called an Icositetragon, a polygon with 24 sides (like a 24-hour clock), has characteristics that are prime-like, except are not prime,” says Grant. “And what makes them prime-like is that instead of being divisible by any kind of number, they're divisible only by large prime numbers (expressly excluding small prime numbers two and three).”
Grant’s findings have since been published by Cornell University in a paper co-authored by Physicist and Number Theorist Talal Ghannam Ph.D. entitled, "Accurate and Infinite Prime Number Prediction from Novel Quasi-Prime Analytical Methodology." This discovery matters because today's encryptions are based upon numbers generated by multiplying two primes to get the public key encryption, a process called factorization. Essentially, the whole system we rely on for internet security today rests upon the time it takes a computer to back-calculate what A and B would be if you only knew C. Grant's discovery allows us to predict prime numbers we could not before.
Grant is quick to confess he didn’t set out to disrupt encryption protocol by exposing factorization’s vulnerabilities. It was an unintended breakthrough. However, because the genie is now out of the bottle, he feels a sense of duty to do right by the world, especially in light of ongoing assaults on data sovereignty. To this end, Crown Sterling will be soon launching a new product, TIME AI™, a dynamic ‘non-factor’ based Quantum encryption to protect data privacy and enterprise systems. Utilizing multi-dimensional encryption technology, including time, music’s infinite variability, artificial intelligence and most notably mathematical constancies, to generate entangled key pairs, it is designed to wrap around data and applications to secure our most precious commodity.
Though Grant and Hopkins recognize the revolutionary nature of their product to impact how some companies do business, they are quick to point out the boon it will offer organizations that can see the forest through the trees. "Data sovereignty needn't hurt enterprise corporations' bottom line. Instead, there are considerable profits to be made by forward-thinking organizations who see the writing on the wall, who know their reputations have been hurt by exposing their customers' private information," says Hopkins. According to him, companies stand to gain by restoring trust among their clientele. Even better, they too will benefit from not having to contend with the monetary costs and time required to deal with every breach rocking their organization.
As evidenced by Zuboff’s book, this groundswell of protective privacy laws, not to mention the largest fine ever levied for privacy violations on Facebook this past week, public sentiment is changing. It’s now common knowledge many of the most popular digital companies engage in the practice of monetization through unauthorized surveillance and asymmetrical acquisitions of information. TIME AI, along with more governmental oversight and enterprise participation is sorely needed to change the status quo.
"It would be foolish for Crown Sterling to think we can go this alone," says Hopkins. "Private companies as a whole must be the leaders of this movement. We are happy to do our part, but everyone has a responsibility to see we fix this. It’s going to take a concerted, collaborative effort among individuals, companies and legislators to provide a long term and sustainable solution that restores data sovereignty to the world.”
Michael Ashley, contributor, and fascinated with the artificial intelligence revolution, is currently co-authoring the ultimate guide for businesses on the subject of AI with Neil Sahota, worldwide business development leader and master inventor for the IBM Watson Group. Part author, part screenwriter, Michael Ashley’s treatment was turned into the hit Disney film, Girl Versus Monster. A 4-time Best-Selling author, he has ghostwritten both fiction and non-fiction books. It’s Saturday Morning, his debut traditionally published book (becker&meyer!), will hit bookstores in Q3 with a foreword by Howie Mandel. Michael was commissioned to screenwrite a TV pilot for Brandon Fayette, Lead Visual Effects artist for JJ Abrams (Star Wars, Lost). Prior to establishing Ink Wordsmiths, his own creative content company, he worked in many literary positions, including as a professional reader for the Head of the Literary Department of Creative Artists Agency.
Michael’s ghost-written blogs have appeared in the Huffington Post and OpEdNews. He has worked as a beat reporter for the Columbia Missourian and as a columnist for Newsbase, an online journal specializing in the energy sector. Author of This Works Marketing (2018), Evolution by God (2017), Fiction in A Weekend (2017) and The Six-Figure Writer (2015) Michael holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Screenwriting from Chapman University and teaches online writing courses. Thought leaders, including Michael Gerber, David Oreck, and Montel Williams have endorsed his work and his clients have appeared on Inside Edition and prestigious publications, including the Orange County Business Journal and Pelican Hill Magazine.