For the future of the planet, there are few research subjects more important than the global supplies of food, water, and energy. To comprehensively study, understand, and inform policy around these complex systems, the next generation of researchers in the physical, social, and biological sciences will need fluency with data analysis methods that traverse traditional academic boundaries.
Reducing infant mortality, improving graduation rates for high school and first-generation college students, preventing home abandonment, and identifying legislative plagiarism are just some of the project goals for the 2015 Eric & Wendy Schmidt Data Science for Social Good Summer Fellowship. For fourteen weeks, 42 fellows in Chicago will work with nonprofit and government partners on these and other important problems, applying data mining, machine learning, statistical, and social science techniques to craft novel and useful solutions.
When people talk about the current tech boom, it usually conjures up images of phone apps, social media networks, and startups with one-word names. But inside the public sector, a quieter tech revolution stirs, as governments increasingly recognize the power of data to help them serve their constituents more effectively. This trend creates a new kind of skills gap, as governments look for people with both the technical skills and civic motivation to analyze data and build tools for internal and external use.
As the Data Science for Social Good fellowship begins its third and final month, it is beginning to attract the attention of local media. In mid-July, WBEZ reporter Chris Hagan stopped by DSSG headquarters at State and Jackson and spoke with fellows and mentors working on projects with Chicago Public Schools, Enroll America, the City of Memphis, and more.
The week before the Chicago: City of Big Data panel, fifty students from Chicago high schools came to the Computation Institute for a crash course on the potential of data to make the world a better place. With help from alumni of the Data Science for Social Good Summer Fellowship, the students learned about the open data released by the City of Chicago and how it can be used to understand and address problems in their own neighborhoods.
Many of us carry a computer in our pocket that's as powerful as the supercomputers of the late 1980's. Many of us also mostly use that revolutionary device to slingshot cartoon birds at evil pigs. Smartphones have undoubtedly improved and changed our lives in many different ways, yet the potential of these mobile computers to benefit science and humanity has often been overshadowed by their talent for eating up free time with a silly game. But as CI fellow T. Andrew Binkowski said in his (flood-delayed) talk for Faculty Technology Day on May 8th, there are few reasons why the power of smartphone apps can't also be harnessed for teaching and research in an academic context.
In general, the world of smartphone apps is a cruel and competitive ecosystem. Almost 1 million apps are available in Apple's App Store, which has seen some 50 billion downloads since its launch in 2008. Due to this scale, Binkowski said he often warns people that no matter how good their app idea is, it's very likely that somebody else has already created and released something similar. Often, it's the design, marketing and support of the app that separates it from a crowd of lookalike releases -- Angry Birds wasn't even the first game where a player flings animals at buildings, and yet it is now the most successful franchise in iOS history.