Friday, August 9, 2013

"Searching Big Data for ‘Digital Smoke Signals’"

This article describes "the United Nations Global Pulse team — a tiny unit ... [with a focus on] harnessing technology in new ways — using data from social networks, blogs, cellphones and online commerce to transform economic development and humanitarian aid in poorer nations" as one example of "a growing collection of scientists at universities, companies and nonprofit groups have been given the label 'Big Data for development.'"
Research by Global Pulse and other groups, for example, has found that analyzing Twitter messages can give an early warning of a spike in unemployment, price rises and disease. Such “digital smoke signals of distress,” Mr. [Robert] Kirkpatrick [who leads Global Pulse] said, usually come months before official statistics — and in many developing countries today, there are no reliable statistics.
I shouldn't have been surprised by this; people who want to help people, just like people who want to make money, are innovative, hard working, and alert to new tools. I am pleased to learn of this movement.

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