Creating a better world with data
Social organizations, emerging nations harness power of big data.
EMC’s Dave Menninger Photo: Courtesy EMC
LONDON – More information will be generated by and about any child born in 2012
than the amount of information generated by the entire preceding history of
humanity since the dawn of time, according to Dave Menninger, head of business
development and strategy for Greenplum, EMC’s big-data analytics
During the first day of a baby’s life, the amount of data generated
by humanity is equivalent to 70 times the information contained in the Library
of Congress, and 10 percent of all the photos ever taken were snapped in the
last 12 months, he said at the Human Face of Big Data Mission Control event in
London last week.
It seems that data is everywhere, and big data is the
latest buzzword in the tech world, Menninger said.
revolution is the next crux point that has the potential to bring truly
incremental change to the world and the citizens of the world,” he
In an analogy to the Internet, Menninger said, “People knew
something was big, but they didn’t know how big.
Big data is in the same
Similar events were also held last week in New York City and
Singapore, where data-storage company EMC launched a crowd-sourced media event
produced by Rick Smolan, the creator of projects such as “Day in the Life” and
the Obama Time Capsule.
According to EMC, the project aims to shine a
light on “humanity’s new ability to collect, analyze, triangulate and visualize
vast amounts of data in real time.”
Among the speakers at the London
event were socially minded entrepreneurs and executives, including Jake Porway,
founder and executive creator of DataKind, which works to connect data
scientists with nonprofits; and David Lundberg, COO of location intelligence
provider aWhere, which is putting into practice the transformative power of data
to create a better world.
Porway organizes so-called data dives, in which
volunteer data scientists hook up with social organizations to help them with
their data needs by doing things such as making visualizations out of data so
that the organizations can immediately see where resources are
“Big data is changing our world, and, for the first time in
history, we have the ability to use data on our own to change the world for the
better,” Porway said.
“By connecting the skills of the data-science
community with the causes and vision of the social sector, we can go beyond just
using data to make better decisions about what kind of movies we want to see, or
what restaurants we want to go to, and instead use data to make better decisions
about what kind of a world we want to see.”
Both Porway and Lundberg
expect a quantum shift in society will be brought about by big
Porway said the hookup between data scientists and visionary
nonprofits would create a fundamental change in the way progress
“No longer do we necessarily need institutions like government
and large companies to do things,” he said. “We have these multidisciplinary
teams bubbling bottom up. This is one of the first steps we are seeing toward a
new kind of science.”
Lundberg said the “democratization of data” means
developing nations can become sustainable sooner. His company, aWhere, provides
agricultural development and global health solutions, including command and
control systems for malaria, a disease that causes the death of some 1.2 million
people every year, most of them under the age of five.
Using images from
satellites to map the approximately 600 trillion pixels that cover the face of
the earth, scientists can compare pixel spectrums to see whether water is clean
or full of algae that can be a breeding ground for mosquitos, Lundberg
“With high-capacity processing available today, large geographical
areas can be searched quickly,” he said. “Searches that would take months or
years by people on the ground can be done in a matter of hours.”
said the technology was developed to tackle a problem caused by the economic
crisis in the US: abandoned swimming pools due to the high number of home
foreclosures. An abandoned swimming pool can turn into a mosquito breeding site
in just a few weeks, he said, and water that is in a state that supports
mosquito larvae has a different spectral signature than that of clean
The solution developed for a developed- world problem is now being
applied to developing nations, Lundberg said.
“With this kind of
technology, organizations and nations can harness the power of data to change
lives,” he said.
“Data is being generated at an unbelievable rate, but
the insight from that data remains unreachable for most countries. When we can
provide the power of location intelligence to these nations they can become
sustainable sooner. Big aid organizations really want to be working themselves
out of a job. By better sharing of information we can be helping them towards
The reporter was a guest of EMC in London.