Datafication is the transformation of all aspects of life into computable data that can be analyzed and quantified. It describes how digital technology, vast computing power and widespread connectivity have enabled previously “invisible” behaviors, attributes and trends to be captured as data points.

The rapidly accelerating datafication of society is generating immense datasets around everything from online browsing habits to real-world driving patterns to exercise activity captured by our wearables. Data is being created at unprecedented scale from economic transactions, social media engagement, government records, sensor networks, surveillance systems and more. It’s estimated that 90% of all information in existence today was generated just within the last two years alone.

Fueling this exponential growth is the Internet of Things (IoT) – the expanding ecosystem of internet-connected sensors embedded into physical objects and the environment. IoT devices like smartphones, smart TVs, fitness trackers and smart appliances continuously collect granular data on how we live and what we do. Even public infrastructure like roads, buildings and cities are being infused with IoT connectivity to digitize patterns of energy usage, traffic flow, public safety and resource allocation.

Meanwhile, artificial intelligence systems are rapidly advancing to find insights in vast, complex datasets. The ability of machine learning algorithms to classify emotions, detect fraud, model protein folding and make other predictions depends on having extensive data for pattern recognition and training predictive models. This creates incentive across industries to datafy more business operations and human engagement.

Concerns have nonetheless risen around data privacy, surveillance, profiling, social engineering, exclusion and other risks exacerbated by unchecked data collection and analysis. As our world becomes more datafied, ethical frameworks, strong data governance and revamped regulations are needed to institute proper transparency, oversight and consent mechanisms. The integration of policies like privacy-by-design can help uphold consumer rights and prevent exclusion of disadvantaged groups as datafication spreads.

If cultivated responsibly and inclusively, the mass datafication fueling AI advancement could profoundly improve medicine, education, sustainability and international development for the benefit of humankind. But we must thoughtfully mitigate risks that such a quantified society poses to human rights and agency.