Which Countries Are Leading the Data Economy?


Here is an excerpt from an article written by Bhaskar Chakravorti, Ajay Bhalla, and Ravi Shankar Chaturvedi for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, obtain subscription information, and receive HBR email alerts, please click here.

Credit:  Paul Taylor/Getty Images

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Which countries are the top data producers? After all, with data-fueled applications of artificial intelligence projected, by McKinsey, to generate $13 trillion in new global economic activity by 2030, this could determine the next world order, much like the role that oil production has played in creating economic power players in the preceding century.

While China and the U.S. could emerge as two AI superpowers, data sources can’t be limited to concentrations in a few places as we have with an oil-driven economy — it needs to be drawn from many, diverse sources and future AI applications will emerge from new and unexpected players. The new world order taking shape is likely to be more complex than a simple bi-polar structure, especially since data is being produced at a pace that boggles the mind.

Building on our past work mapping the digital evolution and digital competitiveness of different countries around the world, we wanted to try to locate the deepest and widest pools of useful data. This is essential to run the myriad machine learning models critical to AI. To do so, it is useful to make a distinction between the raw volume of data and a measure that we shall call “gross data product” – our version of the new GDP. To identify the world’s top “gross data product” producers, we propose using four criteria:

  1. Volume: Absolute amount of broadband consumed by a country, as a proxy for the raw data generated.
  2. Usage: Number of users active on the internet, as a proxy for the breadth of usage behaviors, needs and contexts.
  3. Accessibility: Institutional openness to data flows as a way to assess whether the data generated in a country permits wider usability and accessibility by multiple AI researchers, innovators, and applications.
  4. Complexity: Volume of broadband consumption per capita, as a proxy for the sophistication and complexity of digital activity.

There are several nuances to note. For one, we recognize that the digital trace that is generated by computers around the world spans a very wide range of activities, from sending an SMS text message to making a financial transaction. To enable an apples-to-apples comparison across the world, we use broadband per capita as a measure of such breadth and complexity (in some ways, mimicking the use of per capita income as a proxy for overall prosperity).

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Bhaskar Chakravorti is the Dean of Global Business at The Fletcher School at Tufts University and founding Executive Director of Fletcher’s Institute for Business in the Global Context. He is the author of The Slow Pace of Fast Change.

Ajay Bhalla is the Chief Enterprise Security Solutions Officer of the Mastercard global network. He also serves on the company’s Management Committee and is a Senior Fellow at The Fletcher School’s Council on Emerging Market Enterprises.

Ravi Shankar Chaturvedi is Associate Director for research and Doctoral Research Fellow for Innovation and Change at Fletcher’s Institute for Business in the Global Context at Tufts University.


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