Data and Artificial Intelligence

What is data and how does it link to Artificial Intelligence?

Adam Anstey
July 2nd 2018

Data, a word recently inundating our lives, is derived from the Latin word Dare, literally meaning, “something given”.

No irony is lost in the fact that as a society, we continuously, either knowingly or unknowingly give away insightful and valuable personal data to a host of interested parties. Due to the extremely large size of data sets now being created, these are computationally analysed and as a result, the term “Big Data” has been born.

These parties, whether a well-known online shopping supplier, a fitness app or indeed GCHQ will collect data to build a profile. That profile is then compared with that of others according to gender, age, interests, ethnicity, frequented locations and salary; thereby using our seemingly private details to identify business opportunity. The data processed, is often assumed as fact, inspiring calculations that decide whether an automated email is sent proclaiming 10% off delivery, a reminder issued insisting that according to your previous attempts, you really ought to be running faster or that your picture is placed in front of a panel to decide if you are a potential threat to national security.

Recent headlines involving Cambridge Analytica do not shine a bright light on how our data is being used and this negative coverage causes society to be somewhat reluctant in sharing data willingly. For transparency and reassurance, it is essential to have clarity on who is using personal data, the specific data being received and how it is used; realms which pupils need to be given the opportunity to explore and debate often.

The new data protection law, now officially being enforced, signals a positive step in ensuring that our most private data is kept secure, and that as a society we are given more power to choose how our data is used. If we are not happy with the explanation given, we have the right to refuse for it be processed. However, the impact of not sharing data can be significant and one which should also be a consideration when its use has the potential to help others.

IBM provides an excellent example in their creation of ‘Watson for Oncology’, an artificial intelligence platform that can sift through large amounts of unstructured clinical data in a fraction of the time it would take a team of humans.

In this fully automated process, a clinician can cross-check an individual’s test results, instigating evidence based treatments for cancer diagnosis. This system still relies on human judgement and yet represents a significant advance in how human and machine can work in harmony analysing the vast amounts of data being held. If we refuse consent for our data to be used in this way, theoretically a system such as this will lack the resources required to function.

It should never be forgotten, that data does not solely portray the entirety of an individual’s character or potential attainment; however accurate the method used for the accumulation of that data. As humans we are infinitely complex and despite what predictive methods are used to profile us, we will always remain unique. As a result, it may be the case that some predictions are proven to be positively unrealistic, vastly surpassed by an achievement, for example, that proves the system flawed. As educators, we never limit what we believe a pupil capable, simply because of what a selection of generated data suggests. We need to have a more holistic approach in gauging our pupils’ potential and draw on many factors when creating differentiated pathways for all.  

Happiness, perseverance, kindness and independence are not actively measured using numbers, yet instilling these essential values is, without doubt, a measure of success.

About the Education Consultant

Adam Anstey is the current Director of a Information Technology at Sherborne Prep School.

William Clarence Education offers unbiased advice on UK School and University PlacementOxbridge AdmissionsUS College ApplicationsUCAS application and extensive support for parents and students in all aspects of preparing for entry to the UK. Please contact us on 02074128988 to discuss your particular needs, or email