LA&PS professor’s book explores ‘datafied’ world

Many books standing upright, pictured from above.

York University Assistant Professor Natasha Tusikov, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, has co-written a book about the new “datafied” world, and how control over knowledge has become its own ideology. The New Knowledge: Information, Data and the Remaking of Global Power (Rowman & Littlefield, 2023) is a guide to and analysis of today’s knowledge-driven society.

Natasha Tusikov
Natasha Tusikov

Whether it’s social media platforms collecting their users’ personal data to sell advertising, governments engaging in surveillance in the name of national security, companies like OpenAI scouring the internet to power its generative AI chatbot, ChatGPT, or a government welfare department using data to deny access to essential services, companies and governments are scrambling for more data, and more ways to use it. Throughout it all, tech companies and data experts are being increasingly relied upon, sometimes with unfortunate results.

What are the consequences of this transformation into a knowledge-driven society? In The New Knowledge, Tusikov and co-writer Blayne Haggart, a political science professor at Brock University, argue that more data doesn’t necessarily lead to a more enlightened or just society. Instead, it has concentrated power out of the hands of individual citizens and smaller countries and into the hands of a few companies and countries, while also reshaping basic concepts of property, ownership and control. The global race to create and control data and intellectual property, they say, is leading us inexorably into a world of persistent surveillance by governments and companies.

Cover of the book "The New Knowledge: Information, Data and the Remaking of Global Power"
Cover of the book The New Knowledge: Information, Data and the Remaking of Global Power

More than an examination of the data-driven society, The New Knowledge proposes a solution – knowledge decommodification – designed to ensure that new knowledge is not treated simply as a commodity to be bought and sold, but as a way to meet the needs of the individuals and communities that create this knowledge in the first place.

“We wrote this book because we are witnessing a transformation in the global economy,” says Tusikov.

The catalyst for the book, she says, was when Google’s Sidewalk Labs company announced in 2017 that it won the bid to propose a smart-city project in Toronto. “Missing from this exciting utopian vision, however, was any concrete detail of who would own and control the intellectual property (patents, copyright and trademarks) and data emanating from the smart city.”

As scholars who study intellectual property and data governance, Tusikov and Haggart were concerned that this project was leaving the control over knowledge unaddressed – a trend that continued, she says, until the project’s cancellation in May 2020.

“We use the Sidewalk Labs smart-city project as the book’s leitmotif,” Tusikov explains. “This case illustrates how the control over knowledge…is central to the global economy. Simply put, those who control intellectual property and data flows, like Google in its search engine or the U.S. government in its surveillance programs, can exert economic and security power. We hope that this book will help explain the shifts that are occurring throughout society.”

The New Knowledge: Information, Data and the Remaking of Global Power is available for purchase and is free to download (under “features”) on the publisher’s website.