Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Global Data Deluge and the World Economic Forum

Many notables, from corporate leaders to academics to government leaders and humanitarians, are convening in Davos, Switzerland this week at the World Economic Forum.

One of the dominant themes that is emerging is that of the Global Data Deluge and what to do about it.

As reported in The New York Times Bits technology blog by Nick Bilton: data-related sessions at the World Economic Forum are now prominent with titles such as: "From data to decisions: How are new approaches to data intelligence transforming decision-making?” “Data deluge and citizen science.” “Incidents from digital crime to massive incidents of data theft are increasing significantly, with major political, social and economic implications.” “How is big data being used to uncover individual and collective human dynamics?”

The World Economic Forum has also released a 2012 report entitled: “Big Data, Big Impact: New Possibilities for International Development,” and since I have begun teaching a new course, Humanitarian Logistics and Healthcare, this week, I was pleased to see Ushahidi noted therein as a powerful means of communicating information in disasters.

I was also delighted to read a piece on the data deluge on the World Economic Forum website by a Professor of Applied Mathematics from Brown University (I have 3 degrees in Applied Math from Brown, including a PhD with a specialty in Operations Research, and 1 degree in Russian Language in Literature), Dr. Jan Hesthaven.

In his writeup, Dr. Hesthaven eloquently states: As a global society, we face a host of major challenges – whether it’s dealing with climate change, seeking new sources of energy and security, curing cancer or lifting billions of our fellow humans out of poverty. There are thousands of people engaged in solving these problems, in scores of laboratories and research centers around the globe. They are generating large amount of data about the issues at hand; yet we find ourselves at a juncture where we have so much data that it’s created a bottleneck. We’re faced with a classic needle in a haystack problem – finding the data that are most useful. We struggle to determine which data we can share and how to share it. We struggle with understanding how data can open new questions for us to pursue.

Dr. Hesthaven goes on further to emphasize the needs for education in this area and says: To realize this vision, data and data awareness needs to be integrated into the educational curriculum. We need to teach students how to use massive amounts of data, in higher-education curriculums and even at secondary-school levels. Our educational focus must change, or our children won’t be prepared to handle the vast amounts of data that they invariably will encounter every day.

I could not agree more and have been writing about the data deluge and the importance of revamping our curricula regularly on this blog.

There are tremendous opportunities now to bring many disciplines closer and analytics and operations research, computer science, and, I believe, economics, will play leading roles.