The Data Briefing: 2016 Trends That Could Affect Federal Government Data

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Many IT pundits predict 2016 will be a major tipping point in data and related technologies. Here are just a few predictions:

1) The Internet of Things—The number of devices that can connect to the Internet increases, especially in consumer electronics. Also, the number of sensors will dramatically increase providing more real-time data on weather, electrical power usage, and similar data. The number of devices connected to the Internet is projected to exceed the number of human Internet visitors.

A 2016 start button.

Olivier Le Moal/iStock/Thinkstock

2) Embedded Intelligence—As computer chips become more powerful and smaller, it is easier to embed microchips into everyday devices. Think of the wearables that people have to monitor their physical fitness goals. Not only will embedded intelligence devices produce data, but the devices will also consume great quantities of data.

3) Machine Learning—Just recently, scientists developed an algorithm that allowed a computer to learn as fast as a human. As the ability to produce data has grown much faster than the ability to analyze the data, gaining insights from the big datasets may require humans working with intelligent algorithms.

Retro robot sitting on a pile of books, reading a book.


4) Blockchain technologies—Blockchain is the technology behind BitCoin. Essentially, a blockchain is a way to record transactions in an open and tamperproof register. The advantage of blockchain is that it automates “trust” for all parties involved in a transaction. Blockchain technologies are helping to spur the rise of decentralized autonomous corporations (DACs).

5) Bring Your Analysis—More products are being created so that the average business user can perform their data analysis through drag-and-drops and guided assistants. This has the effect of limiting the number of skilled data analysts needed for an organization while increasing the use of evidence-based decision making.

Each of the above predictions has major ramifications for federal government data. As a major consumer of data and data technologies, federal workers will experience new ways of performing their work and new ways of interacting with citizens. For example, the sensor networks of the Internet of Things may be used by federal workers to act in anticipation of a predicted event. Possibly, fight a forest fire as it becomes detected by the sensor network and before it can grow into a major conflagration.

The federal government is also a major producer of data. As I wrote about in previous columns, many businesses have been created using federal government data and data services. Thanks to research programs by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Science Foundation, there have been great advances in machine learning, data analysis, and other data technologies. These are being used now to create the new companies of tomorrow that will further the data revolution.

Animated gif of Siri
Animated gif of Cortana

It will be interesting to see how the federal government deals with the rise of blockchain technologies and DACs. Additionally, as machine learning helps to create more intelligent personal digital assistants (like the next generation of Google’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana), we may have situations where federal government intelligent personal digital assistants interact with citizen’s intelligent personal digital assistants. How will this affect the delivery of federal government products and services in the future?

It is virtually impossible to predict precise future events. However, it is possible (and probably more useful) to devise scenarios about the future. As the five trends above demonstrate, there is great potential in current data technologies to change the federal government and the American Society.

(Google’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana are used for illustrative purposes only and do not imply endorsement by the U.S. federal government or any federal government agencies.)

Each week, The Data Briefing showcases the latest federal data news and trends.

Dr. William Brantley is the Training Administrator for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Global Intellectual Property Academy. You can find out more about his personal work in open data, analytics, and related topics at All opinions are his own and do not reflect the opinions of the USPTO or GSA.


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