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Look What Barack Obama Has To Say About Big Data Keynote — Strata + Hadoop World 2015

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Data Science: What is it?

Data science is the science of extracting useful information from collected raw data, structured or unstructured, using various data mining tools. The major areas where data science has been applied are – weather, healthcare, finance and banking.

Most big companies have been collecting data since time immemorial but did not know what to do with the accumulated data. Governments are one of the biggest entities that collect data for weather forecasting, or mapping of cities.

The US Government has recently opened government data for public viewing. Doesn’t that sound exciting? All these years we thought that the government has so much to hide from the public, and now suddenly we have access to all that data on a dedicated government website:

IMAGE 1: Official website of U.S. Governments open data initiative

IMAGE 1: Official website of U.S. Governments open data initiative

What do we do with it?

There are ample of uses for all this data that the government is sharing with us. Currently, has about 141,192 data sets available to the public. But, what do we do with all this data the government is suddenly sharing with us. For example, if you are having some issue with a money transfer you have done. So, you naturally complain to the concerned company. You can do this via the web, an app, or through a phone. Once you register your complaint an ID gets generated so that you can use it for future purposes to track its progress. All this data gets stored on a server/cloud. Till a couple of years ago, you would not know how many other people are facing similar service issues. But now, you can go on the website and check how many other consumers have the same complaint of money not getting transferred and originating place, and how it was resolved.

US President Barack Obama took this thoughtful step and paved the way for a change in the way US citizens get empowered with data. By appointing the Federal Government’s first dedicated Chief Data Scientist, DJ Patil, a data scientist who is credited with coining the term “data science”.

What impact will it create?

The key advantage of doing what Obama did by opening up of data to public is showing transparency and accountability of the U.S. Government to their citizens. It also shows how driven the U.S. Government is in embracing of this data driven technological advancements.

The U.S. Government has –

  1. Initiated dashboards to monitor the IT investments made by them and their status.
  2. Opened a website to show the transparency of government in usage of data.
  3. Creating machine readable data which is accessible to the general public.
  4. Investments in research and data science for improvement of health care and the treatment of diseases.
  5. Creating and sharing of the Big Data report which showcases the key findings, and creating of frameworks for ethics of using data, especially pertaining to privacy and security.

 The Obama administration’s main mission in doing this is to responsibly unleash data for the benefit of the American public and maximize the nation’s return on its investment in data.Therefore, the responsibilities that Obama expects his First Chief Data Scientist to shoulder are-

  1. Providing maximum social return on the data that is produced by the country.
  2. Creating data policies that enable data sharing , and have forward leaning practices to retain the competitive edge of the country in Data Science.
  3. Establishing best practices and ensuring their sustainability over a long period of time.
  4. Recruiting and retaining data scientists in public service, and acting as a conduit between the government, the academia, and the industry.

The major hurdle that the data scientists are bound to face is the concern over privacy and security. There has already been a lot of flak towards the government over the National Security Agency’s (NSA) spying on every communication and digital footprints left behind by them. Keeping this in mind, the U.S. government has kept security and protection of privacy among their top priorities in this initiative, which also includes precision medicine and health care development, and building of game changing data products as top most priority work areas.

How are the American citizens reacting to this?

A survey done in April 2015 by Pew Research Center showed a mix reaction of the public to this new initiative. Some key findings were –

  1. Around 65% of Americans had used the internet to find information/data pertaining to the government in the prior 12 months.

Image 2: Internet Usage to Find Data Regarding the Government

  1. 66% of respondents felt that open data will improve government accountability.

Image 3: Opinion On Whether Open Data Will Improve Things

  1. People who trusted the government are more positive on the possible impact of open data and open government initiatives on how government functions.

Image 4: Benefits of Opening Government Data

  1. Those with a leaning towards the Democrats are more hopeful than the one’s leaning towards the Republicans.

Image 5: Democrats More Upbeat than Republicans

  1. Most Americans are comfortable about the government sharing online data related to communities but are uncomfortable when it comes to sharing individual data.
  2. Smartphone users are at ease about the information gathering that happens due to usage of apps that rely on government data to function, eg weather forecasts, GPS navigation, Uber, etc.
  3. The public is broadly divided into four categories on how they view the government data initiative –
    1. Ardent Optimists – Around 17%, all adults, are hooked to this initiative. They use the online resources and think government data will improve government functioning.
    2. Committed Cynics – Around 20% who are users of online government resources too, but are doubtful that it will impact the performance of government.
    3. Buoyant Bystanders – Approximately 27% like the idea of this initiative and are hopeful that it is beneficial, although they are not likely users of online resources.
    4. Dormant Doubters – Remaining 36%, again non-users of online government resources, do not feel that this initiative will make the government more accountable or effective.

Listen to what the U.S President Barack Obama and America’s First Chief Data Scientist DJ Patil have to say about Data Science.

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