Big Data’s Role in the Greater Good

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Click here to learn more about author Ariel Amster.

When people talk about Big Data, often they refer to the massive benefits that stand to be gained by businesses. There’s little doubt that enterprises have taken advantage of Big Data Analytics through things like greater productivity, improved understanding of customers, and innovative product development, but focusing on business gains only reveals part of the Big Data picture. Big Data has made a significant impact in the science world as well, but even beyond that, it is demonstrating a growing influence on improving society as a whole. Many call this the greater good — helping solve the problems and issues plaguing much of society around the world. They can be small things that affect individuals or they can represent worldwide movements, but no matter how many people are affected, Big Data is showing how beneficial it can be when used for the greater good.

Some aspects of this impact have a global reach. Much of the world is talking about the dangers of the Zika virus, a disease spread by mosquitoes that can lead to serious birth defects. The attention surrounding the problem has only grown with the health concerns experts have expressed around the Olympics in Brazil. But Big Data is being used by some organizations to predict where the Zika virus will spread. Collecting data on factors such as population density, weather patterns, and temperatures, experts are able to construct predictive models that help them determine which places could encounter the Zika virus in the future. In this way, health organizations will know where to concentrate their attention and send the right personnel and resources to help.

Big Data can also be used to fight poverty around the world. With advances in satellite imagery, Big Data Analytics, and flash storage, scientists can now compile enough data from satellites to determine which places in the world are suffering the most from poverty. This isn’t just interesting information that’s being collected. The data can be analyzed and used to help non-governmental organizations and other institutions in their effort send aid to those places in need. This is especially important in cases of cash transfer campaigns, making sure the money gets to where it needs to go without interferences.

Social goods served by Big Data don’t always have to be a worldwide affair. Many benefits can be seen from using Big Data locally. In New York City, for example, officials are using Big Data in conjunction with housing services to help young people who are leaving state foster care as they grow older. Good Shepherd Services is working with the Center for Innovation through Data Intelligence (CIDI) to help these adolescents overcome the challenges of early adulthood. By using Big Data to track each individual and spot warning signs for when they need help the most, bigger problems further down the road can be avoided. A study from CIDI and Good Shepherd Services has discovered that when combining these social services with Analytics, participants were up to 55 percent less likely to end up in jail and 36 percent less likely to remain in the shelter system.

Many local services are actively employing Big Data and other solutions like hosted Hadoop to better their communities in different ways. The city of Buffalo has grabbed hold of Big Data as part of Operation Clean Sweep, a city-wide effort to clean up parts of the community. Not only does the program help citizens connect to special services, but it sends teams of people on visits to neighborhoods in order to clean up graffiti, fix potholes, clear trash and debris, and seal up abandoned buildings. Big Data plays its role by determining which neighborhoods require the program’s services the most.

These are only small samples of a much larger movement to use Big Data for the greater good. Big Data is usually thought of in grand schemes, but in reality it can be used in simple ways to make small changes. But through those small changes, incredible strides are made that can help make the world just a little bit better. Whether part of a global project to fight a disease or a community-led effort to clean up the town, Big Data has a part to play.

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