UN Global Pulse: Using Big Data to Solve Big Problems

I’ve been wanting to share this for some time, but back in April, I had the opportunity to hear Robert Kirkpatrick talk about the United Nation’s Global Pulse, an innovation arm that is exploring how to use big data to respond to global crisis in a faster, more effective manner.

To put it simply, Robert and his team are trying to capitalize on the increased use of mobile technology, social networking platforms, GPS tools and online transactions, collectively dubbed “Big Data,” to capture real-time snapshots of collective behavior changes.  This information, when properly aggregated and analyzed can enable the U.N. to respond to potential crises much faster than in the past.

As an example of what this passive data can show Global Pulse partnered with Crimson Hexagon and analyzed tweets from Indonesian users pertaining to rice.  Coincidentally, there was a strong correlation between the volume of tweets about the price of rice and fluctuations in the commodity’s price (see below).

[Source: http://www.unglobalpulse.org/projects/twitter-and-perceptions-crisis-related-stress]

As you might imagine, this effort is not without a wealth of challenges.  Among them is tremendous concerns over privacy as well as gaining access to the data in the first place.  What’s interesting to note is that businesses all over the world (e.g. banks, credit card companies, etc.) possess enormous amounts of information about their customers, but are often unwilling to share it with the U.N.

Facebook comes to mind in this instance as well.  One in 8 people around the world are a member of the social network and share enormously valuable information about their experiences on a regular basis.  One would hope that this vast reservoir of data could be used for more than just creating more targeted advertisements.

Regardless of the challenges, this is a great snapshot into the power that big data holds for developing (and developed) countries.

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