I gave the keynote address to George Washington University’s DATA Conference on December 2. This is what I told the students. Please reply with your thoughts and ideas to extend the conversation on how to make the world a better place through data.
Think about how you can use data and data science to make the world a better place. We are now in a unique time in history because we now have huge amounts of data being collected by all the digitized systems in the world (almost 1 ZB or 1 times 10 to the 21st power Bytes) and the Data Science techniques are becoming more powerful and easier to use. These two factors will give you the ability to do more to improve the lives of your fellow students, their professions and society at large than has ever been possible before.
Data Science innovation will be central to solving humanity's grand challenges by capitalizing on this unprecedented quantity of data now being generated on human behavior and attitudes, human health, commerce, communications, migration and more. You can help to accelerate and advance the development and democratization of Data and Data Science solutions that can address specific global challenges related to poverty, hunger, health, education, the environment, and others.
To help stimulate your imagination, I will present several examples from our work at IBM. The key is to combine your growing expertise in Data Science, with your passions. At IBM, we are encouraging students to combine Data Science studies with other disciplines, such as natural science, social sciences, healthcare, etc. - - the problem domains where the Data Science can be put to work.
For the first example of “Doing Good”, I’d like to tell you about IBM Fellow Chieko Asakawa. She became blind at the age of 14, and as a result has devoted her professional life to building solutions to allow her and other blind people to access the world and regain their independence. Chieko has developed an object recognition solution so she can “see” ordinary objects in her home and at stores, and allow her to pick out wine or know the directions on a package – all using machine learning. She has also developed an indoor navigation system that helps her to easily get from place to place at work. Both use smartphones as the user interface. See these links for more details on Chieko’s inventions: Image rec: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNp4OpToAdQ (many interesting solutions, Chieko’s is featured at minute 17); Nihonbashi Tokyo NavCon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mlGcutE2t2A ; TED talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/chieko_asakawa_how_new_technology_helps_blind_people_explore_the_world ).
The second example is from IBM’s Cognitive Build Competition. Two IBM employees, Karibi and Jenn proposed and prototyped a solution to help children with Autism. The solution, dubbed Pino after Karibi’s newphew, uses Watson Conversation service to help children with autism communicate more independently by providing real-time verbal prompts. It can also be used with other conditions that affect communication ability, such as stroke and Alzheimer's disease. I met Jenn a few weeks ago. She told me, “At a birthday party a couple of years ago, I saw how upset my son was when he didn't receive a cupcake because he couldn't say "yes" when offered one. He needs a therapist or caregiver to prompt him to answer basic questions. He has a communication device that can help him speak, but it requires him to know he needs to respond… When Cognitive Build started, I thought it would be great if my son's communication device could be cognitive so it could help him to be more independent when I'm not around.” Learn more at this link: https://medium.com/cognitivebusiness/addressing-autism-project-pino-3741ce13d39
The third example is about the opioid epidemic, which has become one of the worst health crises in US history. In 2015, more than 90 Americans died every day from opioid overdoses, a number comparable to deaths in car accidents and projected to have risen further in 2016 and 2017. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate the total economic burden of prescription opioid abuse to be $78.5 billion a year, including healthcare costs, lost productivity, and criminal justice involvement.
For many addicts, the problem often begins with legitimate healthcare treatment in which opioid painkillers are first prescribed, such as for surgeries or chronic back pain. During treatment, some patients become addicted and go on to suffer the well-documented consequences of addiction, while others do not, even if they become long-term users. To combat the epidemic, it is vital to understand the exact circumstances under which medically sanctioned treatments can devolve into addiction. That’s where data science comes in to play.
This summer, we took the first steps in tackling this question in a project within our Science for Social Good program. The team, led by Bhanu Vinzamuri, focused on analyzing the relationship between factors surrounding an initial opioid prescription and a subsequent diagnosis of addiction. We found that those people that received initial prescriptions for more than 7 days has a significant correlation to Long-Term usage, as does use of Synthetic Opioid prescriptions. We also confirmed that days of supply matters much more for addiction than quantity (e.g. in milligrams of morphine equivalent) prescribed per day. Other factors that were positively correlated with long term use and which should be used by doctors when prescribing opioids were age, certain regions of the country, rural location, healthcare utilization and depression, osteoarthritis, or diabetes. See more projects at http://www.research.ibm.com/science-for-social-good/#projects
Because of the power that Data Science and data is bringing to Humans, we need to be sure it is a force for good and not for evil. IBM and XPRIZE Foundation believes Artificial Intelligence (and the data science algorithms it uses) will be central to solving humanity's grand challenges. Solutions to pressing problems related to health and wellbeing, education, energy, environment, and other domains important to humanity can potentially be found by capitalizing on the unprecedented quantities of data and recent progress in emerging AI technologies. That’s why IBM is putting up $5 million for the Watson AI XPRIZE. See https://ai.xprize.org/ for more details.
But even if you are not up for competing for the AI XPRIZE, there is lots that you can do. Find a societal problem that you are passionate about. It all starts with a problem or need, like Chieko’s blindness, or Jenn’s child with autism, or the opioid crisis. Then come up with an idea or approach. There is a lot of data now available. Our Data Science Experience is out there on the web for you to play with. It is designed to allow data scientists, business analysts, stakeholders, and programmers work together on a data project. It’s easy to use. Go out and try it. There are tutorials to guide you. It is at https://datascience.ibm.com/ . Don’t just study the problem and write a school paper, create a solution that helps people. Your university’s office of entrepreneurship can help you to build a business case for your solution. Finally, consider pitching your idea to one of the many Pitchfests that are around. One I’m familiar with that exposes your ideas to corporate sponsors such as IBM is NCET2. They are at https://ncet2.org/. Go ahead and make the world a better place!