Column  Finance and the Social Security System  2012.09.14

Potential for Big Data - Prospects for New Wealth

The advent of supercomputers has heightened our expectations for progress in all sectors. Given the fact that available global resources are limited, economists have been studying ways to allocate such limited resources. In the capitalist economy where resources are allocated in accordance with their own "market mechanisms," all issues related to resource allocation are solved on the basis of "prices" determined through the activities of individuals and corporations acting in their own interest for their own personal satisfaction (in selfish ways). However, if vast amounts of information, such as big data*, are utilized for allocating resources, new mechanisms might be created which facilitate the allocation of resources solely on ethical considerations and needs together with the current market mechanisms. Such mechanisms, if they were actually created, might give birth to a new society from the current consumer society (i.e. post-industrial society), a new society offering more utility and wealth (i.e. more happiness).

Big data is expected to be utilized in the field of taxation. Imposing taxes and charges involves the processing of a large volume of information. National, prefectural and municipal governments send all Japanese citizens tax return forms by governmental category before the tax deadline. These government bodies retain an enormous amount of data on citizens' tax payments and defaults. This is one category of big data. It is actually a valuable resources for national and municipal governments to secure financial resources for all purposes. However, it has not been handled or used very well because it includes too much information. If these as well as other kinds of big data were utilized, tax authorities might have a stronger sense of taxpayers' behavior and could thus achieve a better and fairer system of taxation. Proper analysis of taxpayers' personalities and behavior might also provide tax authorities with a better means not only for identifying non-payment and preventing default but also for uncovering more cases of tax evasion.

Society has been burdened by information asymmetries its beginning. Inequalities caused by information asymmetries should somehow be corrected. The recent diffusion of Internet access has given us more opportunities for two-way communication and multiple venues for information exchange - for example, Wikipedia, Twitter, and Facebook, etc., through which more information is at our fingertips than ever before. When we use the Internet these days, we often discover in banner advertisements information relating to data on what we browsed a few days ago. We may also receive information on goods that may interest us in e-mails sent regularly by stores from which we have made an online purchase. We sometimes feel as if we are being watched. It is a well-known fact that point-of-sale data at convenience stores are utilized for their marketing activities. Companies also endeavor to convert information, such as customers' personal information and a record of their Internet browsing and buying behavior, into electronic data to utilize for business purposes.

An infinite number of possibilities await human beings. However, in order to utilize big data, it is essential that we give proper ethical (but not righteous) consideration as to what actions we will take on it and for what purposes. In addition, we must have the right systems in place allowing us to take action towards achieving these purposes. Whether we can utilize big data effectively or not depends on these ethical considerations and systems. In order to correct information asymmetries so that everybody can be wealthy, there are a number of issues to overcome, including proper rulemaking governing businesses' use of big data and legislation tightening information security, etc. By using big data for the development and advancement of society - not for controlling human beings - we can create new wealth. To do this, it will be imperative for not only governments but also individuals and corporations to consider and share ideas on what kind of information society we can safely benefit from.

*There is no precise definition of "big data." It differs among corporations that are using it. According to "e-words" (IT thesaurus), ""big data" means a cluster of data which conventional database management systems or other similar systems cannot record, store or analyze. The term is not definitively defined, and often used for marketing purposes of producers of business-oriented information systems. In many cases, "big data" involves not only a large volume of data but also unstructured or unformulated data in a variety of types and forms. In addition, it involves a great deal of information generated or recorded on a daily basis which has chronological or real-time nature. If we could record, store and promptly analyze such a cluster of data which are currently put aside because of its unmanageable status, there could be an increasing possibility that we could making discoveries which would be useful to businesses and society and could create new mechanisms or systems.