Neelie Kroes: Big data for Europe


ICT 2013 Event – Session on Innovating by exploiting big and open data and digital content /


Vilnius 7 November 2013


Welcome to you all.


Today we are discussing online content.


Digital content that can serve the needs of every European, and generate new opportunities for business.


It’s the life that flourishes in a vibrant digital ecosystem.


Today I want to talk about one particular digital tool that can do so much for us: big data.


It’s often said we are in the era of big data.


What does that mean?


For one thing, it means we have more and more data at our disposal. Take all the information humanity produced from the dawn of civilisation until 2003 – now, we produce the same amount in just two days.


But, more importantly, it means we can manage, manipulate and use that big data like never before.


Thanks to high-powered, high-performance digital tools.


And the applications are huge. From predicting the traffic to predicting the economy. Translating a foreign website to designing better aircraft engines to detecting cancer. Improving business models, or looking for the Higgs boson.


Whatever you’re trying to do these days, chances are you are using big data.


That’s why this magic material, data about the reality around us, is becoming the fuel for innovation. Powering and energising our economy. With a data market worth tens if not hundreds of billions of euros a year to our economy.


Take just one sector: healthcare. A complex task like decoding the human genetic code – needing analysis of 3 billion base pairs— took ten whole years back in 2003: now it can be achieved in just one week. Thanks to faster processing. At these speeds big data becomes relevant for day-to-day decision-making. So there are big data benefits in preventing diseases, cutting out unnecessary tests, or testing how effective new drugs and treatments actually are. Indeed, one study put the value of big data in US healthcare at over $300 billion a year.


Many have understandable concerns over big data and privacy.


Let me be clear. Nothing we do should be at the expense of fundamental rights. Mastering big data means mastering privacy too.


But here too technology, and the right legal framework, can help.


Much big data does not concern individuals.


For data that does concern people, we need firm and modern data protection rules that safeguard this fundamental right.


And we need digital tools to help people take control of their data, so that they know they can be confident to trust this technology.


Then we have a virtuous circle, where technological progress, our legal framework, and our fundamental rights mutually support each other.


Privacy is essential. But it cannot be an excuse to avoid this topic.


Without a European capability we would have just two options.


Either to rely on solutions from abroad. With all its disadvantages.


Or turn our backs on a huge opportunity. A sector with 40% annual growth, where job opportunities have grown 12 fold over 20 years, one which offers businesses in many sectors a productivity boost over 5%.


Again, take healthcare. Concerns on the use of that data are legitimate. But the fact is that big data, suitably anonymised, can improve healthcare and save lives. So failing to act would also be a concern.


Big data doesn’t just boost productivity and employment. But helps us manage healthcare, transport, the environment, or undertake new kinds of scientific research. And improve transparency and performance in the public sector, too.

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