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Data Science is Changing the World for the Better: Here’s How

Data and analytics are used everyday to help businesses drive efficiencies, glean deeper operational insights and ultimately generate more revenue. However, the impact of data science reaches far beyond the business sector and is helping to solve some of mankind’s most pressing issues.

From preventing blindness and treating drug and alcohol addiction to fighting poverty, data science is being utilized not only as a business tool – but for the greater good of society.

Helping the world to see

One of the health issues currently being addressed by the world’s data scientists is visual impairment.

According to the World Health Organization, we’re on the verge of a blindness epidemic, with an estimated 1.8 billion people currently living with some form of visual impairment. In poorer countries, where access to healthcare is scarce, even preventable conditions can lead to permanent blindness.

To combat this, Microsoft has shared its cloud technology and machine learning techniques with the L V Prasad Eye Institute in India – a country where over 55 million people suffer from reduced vision or blindness. Similarly, in the US, AI is being used to identify signs of diabetic retinopathy – a preventable condition which is rarely caught early enough.

Using a vast trove of data, an AI system called IDx-DR can now identify serious cases of this condition in a matter of minutes, without the need for a clinician. Similar systems have also been developed to identify age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma.

Combating global warming

The earth is at a tipping point when it comes to climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states carbon dioxide emissions need to fall by about 45% from 2010 levels to prevent the damage to our planet becoming irreversible.

According to the World Economic Forum, data can play a key role in making that happen. The California Air Resources Board, Plant Labs and the Environmental Defense Fund are currently collaborating on a Climate Data Partnership – a common reporting platform designed to assist more targeted measures for climate control.

The idea is that a combination of different, overlapping data projects – including two satellite launches to monitor climate change from space – will provide a fuller picture of the current condition of the planet.

The data from these satellites, combined with data from organizations monitoring deforestation and other information on the ground, will help us answer the big questions about climate change – and bring transparency to the way global supply chains are impacting the planet.

Empowering the developing world

There are a lot of initiatives aimed at helping developing countries take advantage of analytics, but a lack of infrastructure and a limited amount of data often means they struggle to find success. That may be about to change.

Right now, countries in the developing world are rapidly collecting data related to a whole host of things, including weather patterns, disease outbreaks, and day-to-day living. At the same time, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and Google are all supporting analytics programs in these areas to make sure they can make the most of this data. 

If the programs are successful, these countries will be much better equipped to improve agricultural performance, mitigate the risk of major weather events, contain outbreaks of diseases like Ebola, extend life expectancy, and raise the overall quality of life. 

Resources for data scientists

There are more opportunities than ever for data scientists to get involved with social issues.

Established in 2013, the now-global Data Science for Social Good fellowship hosts a yearly event where data scientists collaborate to ‘tackle the problems that really matter’.

In the past its projects have seen analytics used to improve outcomes for rough sleepers in the UK, increase the efficiency of reviews in biomedical research, and identify the students most likely to struggle in an academic environment.

Similarly, data scientists with a competitive streak may already be aware of the competitions hosted on Kaggle – some of which also focus on social problems, like identifying households with the greatest need for welfare assistance.

As technology continues to progress, the influence data science has on the world around us will grow, and in some circumstances it represents our best chance of solving some of the planet’s biggest and most pressing issues.

About the Author

Prasad Kothari is an analytics and data science leader who has worked extensively building high-performing teams for various organizations and has provided consulting to many fortune 500 clients. As vice president of analytics and client solutions at The Smart Cube, he focuses on helping clients realize the value of data science to solve priority business problems, including customer analytics, marketing analytics, RWE/RWD, and supply chain analytics. Prasad has published healthcare data science research papers across leading journals, as well as books on AI. He has collaborated with several universities in the US and given guest lectures on Quantum Machine Learning, NLP/NLU, topological data analysis and computer vision research. He spends his weekends reading AI books and listening to Indian classical music.

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