As big data have shown their advantages in commerce, governance, surveillance and many other areas, now is the time to explore how to put them to use for humanity. Data generated by people, unstructured texts, digital traces and everything else could be used for agile responses to changes regionally. There is great potential to use data for well being and doing good. The Peace Informatics Lab (Leiden University) has hosted a high-level panel session on “Big Data for Humanity“. The discussion focused on meaningful ways to capture the world of data for designing de-escalation programs and support systems for peace building and humanity.
Measure, design, and create value in doing good
Big data or big analytics are vague terms for large, unstructured data that have unlimited analytic possibilities. Successful sharing services, such as Airbnb and Uber, have shown that people engage on these platform. They provide an ambiance of trust and the chance to encounter interesting people, as part of the experience. Mark Nelson from the Stanford Peace Information Lab suggests that big data could be used in a similar way to build technology that brings mutual beneficial engagements and creates value in doing good.
Open up! Include the voice of the people
The Dutch development aid organization Cordaid is a pioneer in the use of open data for improving the quality and relevancy of development aid. Caroline Kroon explains that openness is their strategy get feedback on their programs and include citizens in what they do. By redesigning they optimize the program. And good practices can be shared much quicker. Another great strength is interconnecting with different sectors. This means transforming and making use of technology, distributed brainpower and unstructured information.
Human centered future
Big data can and should be used for good. In people’s mind, however, they generally provoke two profound dystopian images. The first is a world of corporate surveillance. And secondly, a world where robots take over. Instead, Robert Kirkpatrick of UN Global Pulse pictures a future that human centered. Data philanthropy, where companies provide their data to the UN as a neutral broker to serve the public good, indicates that we are moving in that direction. Currently, many are exploring new applications and success stories to inspire this human centered future, grounded in big data. Social media can help for early warning signals for food security issues. In parts of Africa, FM radio is still the major outlet for people to join the conversation. Voice recognition and qualitative data analyses techniques can be used to identify emerging topics before anybody else has noticed their relevance.
Privacy: the elephant in the room
Big data open up many new roads. Yet, the vast amount of data that is collected on every move we make, is kind of scary. Privacy is such a major good. The risk of violating the privacy of individuals, could stall innovation and applications to serve humanity. William Hoffman, World Economic Forum warns against the rhetoric value of privacy. considers the way forward is in defining better taxonomies for risk, which can be directed towards either individuals, businesses or institutions. Clarifying potential sources of harm would make the conversation richer and provide essential contexts for auditing the data.
The future of big data
We are currently seeing the early days of big data applications. Creative people will use the opportunities offered by technology to find meaningful applications. Doing good is always meaningful. To conclude with Jaap van den Herik from Leiden University, big data helps to visualize patterns that were previously overlooked and couldn’t be predicted through lack of theory. Big data help to become agile and de-escalate by shedding light on issues at an early stage. This opens up opportunities for prevention and bringing peace to a future world of nine billion people.