Big Data for Good. A distinguished panel of experts discuss how Big Data can be used to create Social Capital.

San Francisco/Frankfurt: June 5, 2012.

Every day, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created. This data comes from digital pictures, videos, posts to social media sites, intelligent sensors, purchase transaction records, cell phone GPS signals to name a few. This is Big Data.

There is a great interest both in the commercial and in the research communities around Big Data. It has been predicted that “analyzing Big Data will become a key basis of competition, underpinning new waves of productivity growth, innovation, and consumer surplus”, according to research by MGI and McKinsey’s Business Technology Office.

But very few people seem to look at how Big Data can be used for solving social problems. Most of the work in fact is not in this direction. Why this?

What can be done in the international research community to make sure that some of the most brilliant ideas do have an impact also for social issues?
Prof Roberto V. Zicari, Editor of the ODBMS Industry Watch Blog, asked a panel of distinguished, well known researchers and professionals, how Big Data can be used for achieving Social Capital (Big Data for Good).

The list of panelists include:
– Roger Barga, Microsoft Research, group lead eXtreme Computing Group, USA
– Laura Haas, IBM Fellow and Director Institute for Massive Data, Analytics and Modeling IBM Research, USA
– Alon Halevy, Google Research, Head of the Structured Data Group, USA
– Paul Miller, Consultant, Cloud of Data, UK

The Q&A panel focusesat the question: is it possible to conduct research for a corporation and/or a research lab, and at the same time make sure that the potential output of our research has also a social impact?

In the panel, Big Data is considered as a key example.

Big Data is clearly of interest to marketers and enterprises a like who wish to offer their customers better services and better quality products. Ultimately their goal is to sell their products/services.

But, is it possible to dig into Big Data to help people in need? Preventing / predicting natural catastrophes, helping offeringservices “targeting” to people and structures in social need?

“Any of the big issues affecting society, from environmental change, to population growth, to the need for clean water, food, and healthcare; all of these affect large groups of people and all of them have aspects of policy formulation or delivery that are (or should be, if anyone collected it) data-rich”, comments Paul Miller.

“Our ability to acquire and analyze unprecedented amounts of data has the potential to have a profound impact on science”, says Roger Barga.

“Google Fusion Tables has been used in many cases for social good, either though journalists, crisis response or data activists making a compelling visualization that caught people’s attention. This has been one of the most gratifying aspects of working on Fusion Tables and has served as a main driver for prioritizing our work: make it easy for people with passion for the data (rather than database expertise) to get their work done; make it easier for them to find relevant data and combine it with their own”, says Alon Halevy.

“Much of our “Smarter Planet” related research is around utilizing more intelligently the large amounts of data coming from instrumenting, observing, and capturing the information about phenomena on planet earth, both natural and man-made”,explains Laura Haas.

The full text of the interview can be read at the ODBMS Industry Watch Blog. 

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