By Mike Yeh, Associate General Counsel, Microsoft Asia

Since the start of the pandemic, almost everyone has become an armchair data scientist. Each morning, we wake up and want to know how many cases of COVID-19 are in our local area, where those cases are, whether the case numbers are rising or falling, and how many people have been vaccinated.

In a way, COVID-19 has taught us the value of data. Managing a pandemic is certainly a powerful example of how data can keep us safe, but its uses are far more expansive.

Data is indispensable to the world’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Automakers are using it to make automated driving safer. Financial regulators use it to identify corrupt transactions. Doctors use it to diagnose diseases and treat cancer better. It doesn’t matter what the problem is; there’s a good chance that data can be part of the solution.

Microsoft President Brad Smith spoke at the Asia Tech x Singapore today on the opportunity data presents for addressing Asia’s challenges.

Asia is uniquely poised to be a leader in the innovative use of data. The amount of data we generate – and which we can put to good use – is only limited by the population size and the number of connected devices in each country. And with more than half the world’s people, Asia generates lots of data that can have a vast number of applications.

Protect trust in data

To truly capitalize on the promise of data, we need to ensure that it serves the public good. Above all, we need to ensure that trust, security and privacy are always at the center of how we handle data. That’s why Microsoft continues its emphasis on strong security and why we have extended the benefits of Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to all our customers globally.

At the same time, it is critical to pursue new initiatives that can collect data in a privacy-sensitive way so that businesses and governments can realize its full potential without compromising trust.

Closing the data divide

The world generates huge amounts of data but it is far too concentrated at present. Today, fewer than 100 companies control 50% of the data generated by online interactions. And according to PwC, 70% of the economic value generated by artificial intelligence – a set of technologies that’s crucial to helping us make sense of the huge volumes of data we generate – will accrue solely in the U.S. and China.

We must overcome the “data divide” that separates countries and companies with the data they need to innovate from those that do not. This will involve training a new generation of workers who have the skills to put data to use.

It will also mean developing frameworks so data can be shared safely among government and businesses. Microsoft is supporting efforts across Asia to develop these protocols.  We are also pursuing open data initiatives around the world and have established several datacenter regions in Asia over the past year, such as in Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan and New Zealand.

Collaboration for success

As Brad Smith made clear in his remarks at Asia Tech x Singapore, Microsoft firmly believes that success ultimately lies in combining security and trust with enough flexibility to allow for greater innovation through data. It will also depend on the willingness of governments and organizations to seek out and deepen new collaborations.

Now is the perfect time to act. Governments and businesses across the region have developed new data capabilities to manage the pandemic. They are more aware than ever of the possibilities. Let’s use this unique historical moment as an opportunity to commit ourselves to put data to work to help Asia address the next great set of challenges.

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