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“Big data,” as vague and buzzwordy as the term is, has arguably led to major changes in finance, advertising, and elections.

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As the Data Science for Social Good fellowship enters its final month, many of the projects with nonprofit organizations and government agencies are picking up momentum. At the DSSG website, we're posting regular updates on the fellows' progress: how they determined the right problem to solve, what analytic and software tools they're using to attack those problems, and what they have learned along the way. Some of the articles even offer a glimpse at early results and prototypes developed by the team over the first two months. Here's a sampling of those progress reports.

 

Cook County Land Bank: The Problem

The Cook County Land Bank Authority was recently established earlier this year as a new government agency charged with acquiring and redeveloping vacant and abandoned properties. DSSG fellows are working with The Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University to developed a tool—a sort of "Trulia for abandoned properties"—that will help the agency determine which properties to purchase in order to produce the greatest benefit for the surrounding community.

CHINA'S LATEST SUPERCOMPUTER VICTORY

China's Milky Way 2 supercomputer was recently declared the fastest supercomputer in the world by industry scorekeeper Top500, the latest move in the increasingly international race for high performance computing supremacy. Late last month, CI Senior Fellow Rick Stevens appeared on Science Friday, alongside Top 500 editor Horst Simon, to talk about why that competition matters, and what the global push for faster computation will do for medicine, engineering and other sciences.

"These top supercomputers are like time machines," Stevens said. "They give us access to a capability that won't be broadly available for five to ten years. So whoever has the time machine is able to do experiments, able to see into the future deeper and more clearly than those that don't have such machines."

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Last week's Techweek Chicago event had all the trappings of your typical tech conference. Sprawled out over a floor of the city's massive Merchandise Mart was a maze of exhibitor booths luring attendees to learn about their new dating service or augmented reality app with tchotchkes and loud music. Three stages offered a full slate of talks and panels about the future of the internet, smartphones and video games, tips for making content go viral and pageant-style battles of aspiring startups. Against this noisy backdrop of buzzwords and brands, the public announcement of the Data Science for Social Good fellowship struck a different note.

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As the Eric & Wendy Schmidt Data Science for Social Good fellowship enters its third week, the orientation ice-breakers of the first couple days have given way to the grind of hard work. Following the technically-oriented "boot camp" of the first week, where fellows got a crash course in the software and tools at their disposal this summer, the second week featured a different sort of educational experience. A steady stream of experts, on topics ranging from Chicago crime and public transit to energy infrastructure and early childhood interventions, visited the DSSG space to expose fellows to the gritty details of the real world problems they will address.

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The Data Science for Social Good summer fellowship is officially underway, as (most of) the 36 fellows have made it to Chicago, met their mentors and explored their new digs on the Chicago River.

FROM CITY HALL TO HYDE PARK

In its early days, the Urban Center for Computation and Data formed a valuable partnership with the data team installed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel within Chicago's city government. Leading the city's efforts to free up data internally and externally was Chief Data and Information Officer Brett Goldstein, an alumnus of the UChicago computer science program and the restaurant reservation startup company OpenTable. Goldstein's team and UrbanCCD worked together on the SmartData platform proposal that was chosen for a $1 million grant in the Bloomberg Mayors Challenge earlier this year, and Goldstein was the keynote speaker at the first workshop of the Urban Sciences Research Coordination Workshop in February.

So we are very excited about the news that Goldstein will soon be joining the University of Chicago as the inaugural Fellow in Urban Science at the Harris School of Public Policy. Goldstein will continue to work with UrbanCCD researchers on the SmartData platform and other projects, while also helping with the launch of a masters degree in computation and public policy and the Urban Technology Innovators' Conference, a new initiative organized by Chicago Harris and the City of Chicago that seeks to create a peer-learning network for municipal technology innovators.

While you're planning for a summer vacation on the beach, we're planning to host three dozen aspiring data scientists for The Eric and Wendy Schmidt Data Science for Social Good Fellowship.

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"Civic hacking" has become a popular way for people skilled in programming and data crunching to give back to their community.