The Power of
Information is power. We see the power of information every day in our lives and in the world around us. Information empowers people to make decisions about their health, encourages them to lead more active lives, helps people choose where to study, and customers where to get the best deals for shopping. Organisations are driven by information for financial planning and targeting their products and services, they need information about their clients and competitors to maintain and grow their business. And society is being increasingly shaped by the power of information to sway public opinion, to influence elections, create support for political campaigns and to galvanise resistance to governments.
The power of information is increasing. Thanks to the continuous development of new technologies, more information is more accessible to more and more people. Tim Berners-Lee’s notion of developing a worldwide network of computers to share data transformed the way people all over the world access information. Web 2.0 technologies and social media have revolutionised how people share knowledge, ideas, opinions and daily experiences with their friends, family and complete strangers.
Mobile technologies and devices are enabling people to access and share information 24 hours a day almost anywhere across the globe.
The increasing availability of information has clear benefits for individuals, groups, organisations, governments and society. Families and friends can keep in closer contact even though they are separated across the globe, carers of patients with long-term illnesses can reduce their social isolation by developing friendships with other carers online, information can be gathered and analysed to development new treatments for life-threatening illnesses, businesses can learn about their customer’s searching behaviours and target their products, governments and political parties can quickly understand the effect of their policies on public opinion and relief organisations can provide help for people experiencing major disasters.
But power is a double-edged sword: with the benefits come risks and dangers. Sharing personal data with other people and with organisations creates risks of the information falling into the wrong hands and individuals being exploited and abused.
Cyber-terrorist attacks have exposed organisations to losing access to their networks and information, without which they cannot function. Political organisations can manipulate information and people for nefarious purposes and autocratic governments can track individuals whose views they oppose. The benefits and risks associated with the increasing availability of information mean that we need a better understanding of the power of information and how it affects people, organisations and society.
Understanding the power of information is the focus of our research in the Information School. This publication presents a sample of our research and how it is helping to understand how data, information and knowledge are generated, stored, analysed and shared and how this is changing the world. I hope you find our accounts of our research exciting, and I encourage you to contact us if you would like to find out more about our endeavours to understand better the power of information.
Professor Peter Bath
Professor of Health Informatics and Head of School
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