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Big Data and the Sentient World

Tuesday, 17 September 2013.

The fast data set revolution is being created by you. Every time we text, search, travel or buy we add to the data mountain of some 2.5 billion gigabytes a day that humanity is collectively writing, bringing a new consciousness into existence.

The question is how do we make meaning out of all this data? How can data help us meet the challenges in our daily lives, challenges for our cities, for our changing climate, the ever increasing demand to better manage the resources we have? This is the world of BIG DATA that is going to have implications for all as there is an explosion of information, complexity, diversity, sentience, beauty and structure that is changing our source code. This BIG intelligence is making our world more sentient and enables us to organise more complex types of intelligence. At an atomic level data creates a new ecosystem that enlarges the opportunity for humanity.

From an individual perspective, we leave continuous trails of data, plumes of bits of information. It’s the personal exhaust from our digital interactions. In the highly competitive world of marketing and commerce, this data is being recognised as increasingly important, with companies desperate to harvest, aggregate and refine it for commercial gain. Hal Varian, Google’s chief economist, published a paper in which his research found that the peaks and troughs of Google searches would be predictive in the demand for certain goods and services. Scary or not so scary - it depends.

Smart cities

Data will become increasingly a part of the interface of our world. Drawing deeper insights from smarter cities will allow us to improve transportation, public safety, energy and healthcare, refining the quality of people’s everyday lives. Something that Rio is experimenting with is intelligent dynamic data, interconnecting the cities data sets and flows. In Los Angeles the police department has been using BIG DATA to predict crime before it happens and consequently alter their patterns of policing as a consequence – very Minority Report in terms of pre-crime practice. Researchers in Japan have proposed using data from vehicles’ windscreen wipers and embedding GPS receivers to track the movement of weather systems through towns and cities with a precision never before possible.

Climate change

Governments and NGOs around the world face mounting pressure to provide disaster relief to many vulnerable communities. Events in the USA, like Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, have shown that emergency services don’t have the capacity to reach everyone in need. In developing countries like Haiti the situation is even more desperate. How can mobile network technology and social networking help isolated people?

Since the Haiti earthquake, advances have been made. The United Nations Disaster 2.0 paper reported: “On the timeline of the Internet’s evolution, the 2010 Haiti earthquake response will be remembered as the moment when the level of access to mobile and online communication enabled a kind of collective intelligence to emerge.” More worryingly, the report said “the humanitarian system had no formal protocols for communicating with these volunteer and technical communities.” This means we can dissolve complexity and chaos via peer to peer networks, mobile communications and data.

From consumption of healthcare to the practice of wellness

The Edelman Health Engagement Barometer, launched in October 2008, identified about 22% of American adults as ‘health info-entials’ – that is, people who most actively seek health information and discourse and want to be able to talk about their health needs with others. What motivates these people toward those parties with whom they seek health engagement is trust, authenticity and satisfaction. And among all sources of information and contact, health information seekers expect ‘conversations with my doctor’ to be the most important connector for health engagement.

The Pew Project found an even stronger correlation between mobile platforms and the use of the internet to seek health information: 89% of people with wireless internet connections seek health information online, compared to only 40% of consumers who use only a wired internet connection. A difference may also be found in the quality of the interactions. According to Fox, writing in ‘The Social Life of Health’ information: ‘E-patients with mobile access to the internet are more likely than those who have tethered access to contribute their comments and reviews to the online conversation.’ This behaviour was also identified in The Mobile Difference, where the Pew Project reported that wireless access is associated with deeper engagement and participation in online communications. It is predicted that Mobile health services would shave $400bn (£265m) off the OECD countries’ annual healthcare bill by 2017.

We need eHealth developments that are improving the right of access to quality healthcare regardless of personal condition and geographical location, allowing the selection of the appropriate health resource from anywhere at any time.  So what might be the benefits of using a mobile device for health services?

  • It’s a completely personal device.
  • It facilitates highly personal health services.
  • It can help ensure the fidelity of patients.
  • It’s always turned on and carried or within arms’ reach.
  • It facilitates wireless body area networks.
  • It facilitates the gathering of contextual information.
  • It ensures it’s there in unexpected emergency scenarios.
  • It provides assurance that care is at hand.
  • It facilitates push services as well as pull.

For example, mobile enabled services allow people to create and maintain medical histories on their phones. All of your allergies, current medications, past treatments and names of doctors and hospitals you have visited could now be in one place. For those with complicated medical histories, this could be no less than a life-saving service. We are starting to see a range of services made available via mobile platforms, which enables the collection, storage and analysis of wellness-related data, collected from everyday life. Remote diagnostics and patient management technologies in telemedicine have been highlighted as being one of the key components of healthcare for the 21st century.

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