The amount of data being amassed and analysed is growing at an incredible rate, with industry leaders eager to monopolise this vast resource to revolutionise their businesses.
While organisations have long used data to inform their decisions, they now lack the skills necessary for developing useful insights due to the volume of material being created. These insights are needed for doing everything from solving social issues, responding to humanitarian crises as well as helping with the nation’s defence and security. As with any highly sought after role, data scientists – those that possess the skills needed to understand this data – are now akin to the rock stars of the tech world.
As the ones tasked with understanding big data and identifying its insights, data scientists are tackling these challenges head-on. To help them understand the meaning behind big data, they use a range of highly specialised skills, including computer
science, coding, statistics, mathematics, data visualisation, and data mining. They also develop machine learning algorithms and AI systems to aid in filtering the wealth of data available. It takes many years to develop these skills and by 2018 the demand for data scientists will exceed supply by 50 per cent.
Many people are unaware that data scientists have already improved our day-to-day lives; we’re now able to interact with big data through our devices to track our fitness, discover the cheapest prices between retailers, and find the fastest travel routes at the touch of a button. While these innovations have already enhanced our lives, what’s more fascinating is the potential of data scientists leveraging big data in other sectors such as defence and security.
Big data assisting humanitarian aid
In the event of a disaster – whether natural or conflict-driven – responding quickly is crucial to minimising problems that occur. In chaotic and rapidly changing situations, big data is being used to help improve the responses of aid organisations. Using computer algorithms and analytics, data scientists can provide useful insights into emergencies and identify patterns in data generated by connected devices and other sources.
Sweden’s Migration Board saw 10,000 asylum seekers per week during the 2015 refugee crisis, up from 2,500 asylum seekers a month. It was a situation many other organisations could have had difficulty with. The agency coped with the dramatic increase by hiring extra staff in advance, starting the process of securing housing early and stockpiling supplies. The key to its success was their use of big data and analytics for several years, meaning it had predicted the increase well ahead of time.
These results don’t come easily. There are obstacles that stand in the way of data scientists. Such as finding relevant information. With the launch of open data initiatives in recent years, however, this has become easier. Another challenge facing data scientists is that many lack experience within other sectors beyond tech and business. They may also struggle acquiring resources, such as the technology they need, or finding the funding to pay for the necessary talent.
Tapping into the talents of data scientists
In order to harness data scientists’ potential to tackle difficult challenges facing people around the world, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) and other government partners have launched the Data Science Challenge. Helping data scientists develop and test their skills against complex problems, the challenge is part of a wider programme set out in the Defence Innovation Initiative. By opening the challenge to entrants from all data science specialisations and backgrounds, it acknowledges that the best minds are not necessarily the ones that work for you.
The challenge has two competitions, each with a prize fund of £40,000:
- The first assesses a data scientist’s ability to analyse the data located in documents such as media reports. This could help provide a deeper understanding of a political situation as it occurs for those on the ground and assisting from afar.
- The second test involves creating a means of detecting and classifying vehicles such as motorbikes, buses and cars, from a set of aerial imagery. This solution could be used for aiding the safe journey of vehicles through conflict zones.
The future is very bright for the rock stars of the tech world. As organisations begin to see the value of understanding big data, and the demand for AI and machine learning grows, more of them will turn to data scientists for strategies and decision making. With applications already spreading across the consumer, humanitarian, business and tech industries, all sectors will benefit from their expertise. With the quantity and quality of data only set to increase, data scientists have the potential to change the way the world works.
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