LISBON — Samsung Electronics president Young Sohn today sketched an almost dystopian future in which every detail of your life — all the way down to your individual DNA — is tracked by vast "bio data banks" that store your genome, help diagnose diseases, offer prognoses, and assist with disease prevention.
The databases will be part of an explosion of data-based businesses that will know almost everything about you, in a world of "sensor pervasiveness." Data sensors will provide fantastically granular detail in tracking your blood, your car, your food, the temperature of your home, and use artificial intelligence to inform maps and public transportation, he said.
To give you an idea of just how far we are already into this future, Sohn told the Web Summit conference in Lisbon that there are already 340 trillion-trillion-trillion IP addresses on the planet (that's 10 to the power of 37), mostly inside connected devices that already have the ability to talk to each other. For scale, there are only 100 billion stars in the galaxy, and only 100 billion neurones in the average human brain.
In an interview with Business Insider after his speech, we put it to Sohn that there was a lot about his vision that was troubling.
"I worry about that," he told us. "That's why I brought up these questions of ethics. I mean, I think we should really worry about ethics. What is right? What is wrong? That's why I made a comment, we've got to be principle-driven. And the research? Great. But research for purpose, not for using that data to take advantage of all human beings out there."
In his keynote, Sohn had described the coming explosion in AI-driven data as an "opportunity." "It's not just for China, not just for the Americans, data is a global opportunity," he said. "There are many opportunities to disrupt the world here."
But there are also many opportunities to invade people's privacy, or to curtail their rights based on the data stored about them. In China, for instance, the government has started using citizens' credit scores against them , by restricting the travel of people with low scores, reducing their internet access and preventing their children from attending the best schools.
"So, I don't agree with Chinese support for social score, I think that's a problem," Sohn told Business Insider. "And I think we also have to be very careful of how the data is shared, even by Google link, any big platform companies, we should be mindful of that because power in the hands of [people with] wrong purpose can create abuse. I'm not a politician. But as technologists I think we need to be more truly aware of what we are doing. It's more education [needed] right there."
He quickly added, "Your data on a Samsung phone stays with Samsung on your phone, Samsung doesn't have any access to your phone."
Sohn said he is really hoping that AI and big data will be used to improve everyone's health. In his speech, he envisioned DNA data being widely available for research and AI. "We need to have the genome data that's available," he said, so that companies can begin "creating a unified database that can be able to help us from, genomes to phenomes, and other data types."
"Genomics is the bridge," he said. With "information around our blood, we will be able to make correlations with different diseases, diagnosis, prognoses and prevention over time."
Business Insider asked him to expand on that in a conversation backstage. "I think we only know about 7 to 8 percent of our body, from a medical [standpoint], so I am hoping we create more, and learn what we don't know. Through that process we can have a better correlation between diseases ... so that's what I really meant. How do you do that? Well you start with the data, and you start with AI, because one of the things with AI is, you make connections where you'd never expect it."
But he agreed that the process could be open to abuse. In his speech he also warned, "We have issues that we really have to think through ... the ethics of AI."