Using Data to Solve World Challenges

Jared Ragland, Senior Director, Policy — APAC, BSA | The Software Alliance | March 7, 2017
Consumers, businesses, and law enforcement all need greater clarity regarding the rules to play by when it comes to gathering, storing, sharing, and using data in today's data-driven world.

This vendor-written piece has been edited by Executive Networks Media to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favour the submitter's approach.

Today, many devices have been made smart with software, and generate new data continuously. For example, of the nearly four trillion photographs taken since the invention of photography, a whopping 1 trillion were taken just last year. In April of last year, Facebook announced that more than 4 billion videos were being played every day on their social platform; this number skyrocketed to 8 billion per day before the end of 2015, doubling in just a few months.

Even your smart phone has more computing power than the computers used by NASA when it first sent astronauts to the moon in 1969. There's a good chance you may be reading this article on that phone, as more and more people around the world are using phones to access data. The number of smart phone users around the world doubled from 1 billion in 2012 to 2 billion in 2015; analysts expect that number to double again by 2020.

Businesses understand the importance of leveraging their massive amounts data to help inform decisions, as well. In a recent survey of decision makers across multiple industries, 70 percent of respondents said that their organisation's ability to get value from big data was critical to their future success.

Data has the potential to solve some of the world's biggest, most complex problems, for businesses and individuals alike. We are only beginning to harness its true power. Living during this time of data breakthroughs is a privilege, but one which carries tremendous responsibility. One of our biggest challenges is creating a global public policy environment in which the full promise of data can be realized.

Before addressing the policy barriers that could limit the benefits of the data revolution, first consider how data is changing life as we know it. Whether improving your morning commute or saving lives, people are using data to solve real-world challenges around the globe.

Data Is Transforming Our Lives Today

Today's data revolution is often invisible - it's transforming the world in ways many of us don't realize or see.

In healthcare, data is transforming preventive medicine and changing the way doctors treat their patients. For example, by combining real-time data with patients' medical histories, a newly developed algorithm can help doctors predict cardiac arrest a crucial four hours in advance, saving countless lives. Canadian researchers have used advanced data analytics to discover that prematurely born infants with unusually stable vital signs correlated with serious fevers the next day, enabling doctors to take early action. And moving from 2D to 3D imagery for mammography has meant better data that's improving breast cancer detection rates.

Sectors like design and infrastructure also benefit. Data is being used in the United Arab Emirates to design the world's first building that produces more energy than it consumes. And in Stockholm, Sweden, the city installed 1,600 GPS systems in taxis to collect data on traffic flows, and then used software analysis to inform its plans to reduce congestion. The result? Traffic has been reduced by 20 percent, travel times have been cut in half, and auto emissions are down ten percent.

The impact of data is not limited to advanced economies. Perhaps the most significant results have occurred in developing countries where data is improving quality of life. One example is Kenya, where mobile data is being used to identify malaria patterns and pinpoint hotspots to guide eradication efforts. Another is India, where Internet kiosks are providing more than 4 million farmers access to crop prices, weather data, and advanced analytics, allowing them to track information from individual farms and deliver supplies to farmers based on their changing needs. Thanks to a concept known as "precision agriculture," farmers around the globe are now able to use data from seeds, satellites, sensors, and tractors to make better decisions that increase yields, decrease costs, and ultimately, feed more people.

But examples like these are only the tip of the iceberg.

The Next Wave of the Data Revolution

Steam engines, penicillin, and GPS are all advancements that led to historic shifts in human society. According to a recent World Economic Forum report, we are on the verge of the next wave of innovation that will change life as we know it.

Data about everyone and everything is exploding exponentially. In parallel, the sophistication of the problems software can address is advancing rapidly - as is the ability of software to learn and evolve itself. This presents tremendous opportunity for software-enabled advancements to continue to reshape the world.

New data-driven advancements are poised to enhance productivity, efficiency, and creativity. Connecting vision to the internet via "intelligent" eye-tracking devices, for instance, will allow us to enhance, mediate, or augment how we interact with the world around us, which holds significant promise for the disabled. The rise of 3D printing will vastly reduce production costs of daily products. The Internet of Things - with smaller, cheaper and smarter sensors in cities, homes, clothes, and accessories - will improve quality of life. Computing itself will become ubiquitous in developing countries. And everyone worldwide - including in developing nations - can have access to a supercomputer in his or her pocket, with nearly unlimited storage capacity. The potential is amazing.

But whether software and data analysis reach the full potential of these possibilities in the coming years depends, in part, on how well government and industry work together.

Three Ways to Help Innovation Thrive

Consumers, businesses, and law enforcement all need greater clarity regarding the rules to play by when it comes to gathering, storing, sharing, and using data in today's data-driven world. Here are three ways to achieve this:

Software-driven data innovation has already sparked unprecedented advances worldwide, but we have only just begun to put data to work for us. There is so much potential for software to help millions more around the world. For this future to become a reality, lawmakers must act to build a supportive policy environment that enables data services to thrive - one that brings more clarity, and that better suits the realities of our modern global economy.