The invention of the internet introduced the world to information sharing. Email, bulletin boards, Listserv, FTP and other internet protocols brought the power of fail-safe information sharing. The web browser invented by Marc Andreessen allowed people everywhere to transmit and share text and images.

Not long afterwards, an innocuous invention called the “cookie” built the business model. The cookie allowed others to see user behaviour, creating a gargantuan revenue machine of internet advertising. Companies began to sprout up, from the early players such as AOL and Yahoo, to the current juggernauts of Google and Facebook.

The commercialization of GPS meant companies could know what you were doing and where you were. By monitoring your behaviour, they could find out more about your interests. The simple cookie, coupled with GPS, became a foundation for data collection, storage and analytics that is now being transformed into concepts such as the cloud and big data.

Three years ago, the most modern computer devices were the smartphone and its cousin, the tablet. Their rise marked the descent of PCs and laptops. Today, the notion of a computer is no longer limited to a screen, keyboard and mouse.

Tomorrow’s computer is a wristband, a “smart headphone”, a refrigerator, a car and even a motorcycle helmet. All of these will produce and be fed by an endless stream of data.

For example, smart headphones will know your favourite music, movies and internet sites. They will even know where you are and how fast you’re going. Perhaps most intriguingly, the smart headphone will know your pulse rate, blood oxygen level, the temperature of your body and ambient environment, humidity, and even pupil dilation. This is all in addition to current technologies that allow devices to monitor how long you talked to someone, who you instant messaged or what you posted to Facebook.

Of course, as consumers we don’t have to share this information. Yet increasingly, people are choosing to store their information in the cloud and provide analytics in exchange for a free latte from their favourite coffee shop.

This bold and sometimes scary vision of the world of big data is one that is increasingly becoming a reality. People’s desire for affinity, free things, offers and discounts is already driving the global data explosion. Despite legitimate privacy concerns, it is consumers who continue to drive the voluntary (and sometimes involuntary) creation, storage and analysis of their data.

What does it all mean?

Imagine being hooked to an electrocardiogram machine in a doctor’s office for 24 hours. Today, you can access all this information simply by wearing a smart wristband. The wristband will even tell you about your sleep and breathing patterns. The sensors will know how much or how little you walk, and how fast or slow you go. All of this data can be analysed and interpreted – not just to diagnose your health, but also to suggest which brand of athletic shoes to buy. Foot races can now be virtual and precisely synchronized so you can race your friends in Mumbai, Manila and Tianjin, while you’re in Singapore.

In the automotive space, there has been much excitement about the driverless car. But even more exciting is the emergence of intelligent vehicle systems and grid computing platforms for existing cars. Much like the human body has a brain, the car has an electronic control unit, which is a simple device that monitors its components and telemetry.

Combined with the mobile phone or tablet and the ubiquity of 4G and LTE, vehicles can communicate with other vehicles, allowing for a massive and dynamic system to manage not only traffic flows but also enable predictive driving, parallel parking and automatic parking enforcement. The data produced by just 10% of all the cars and motorcycles in the world would present a greater advance in automotive technology than the combustion engine.

As always with revolutionary technology, as it becomes more widely available, new industries will be born. But many will die if they fail to take advantage of the big data boom. In many ways, the future is already upon us.

Author: Yobie Benjamin is the Co-founder/COO at Avegant, a World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer of 2015.

Image: A picture shows wires at the back of a super computer at the Konrad-Zuse Centre for applied mathematics and computer science, in Berlin August 13, 2013. REUTERS/Thomas Peter