High-profile data horror stories are becoming increasingly common, from Facebook’s relationship with Cambridge Analytica to the leak of UK diplomatic cables and massive security breaches at some of the world’s biggest companies. Daily headlines detail how corporations, governments and criminals are deploying powerful new data-driven technologies in nefarious, unethical or incompetent ways. Some people nevertheless believe that the power of data science and artificial intelligence can be harnessed for the benefit of society. Yet outside of the corporate sector, many organisations lack the skills and resources to take advantage of opportunities.
In 2013, seeking to address this issue, former chief scientist of the Obama for America 2012 campaign, Rayid Ghani, established the Data Science for Social Good (DSSG) Fellowship at the University of Chicago. This is a 12-week residential summer program which trains aspiring data scientists to work on data mining, machine learning, big data, and data science projects having positive social impact. Working closely with governments and non-profits, DSSG fellows take on real-world problems in education, health, energy, public safety, transportation, economic development, international development and more.
This summer the DSSG Fellowship has come to the UK for the first time, thanks to the efforts of LML External Fellow Colm Connaughton and colleagues from the University of Warwick, Imperial College London, the Alan Turing Institute and the University of Chicago. Drawn from a pool of almost 800 applications from all over the world, 40 DSSG fellows are currently working at two sites at Warwick and Imperial. Organised into small teams with four technical mentors and four project managers, they are aiming to tackle ten socially impactful data science projects, with key challenges including:
- Increasing the efficiency of creating meta-reviews in biomedical research (with Cochrane, a charity that organises medical research findings to promote evidence-based decisions in healthcare)
- Understanding and reducing inequities in transportation in the West Midlands (with the West Midlands Combined Authority)
- Improving outcomes for rough sleepers in the UK (with Homeless Link)
- Reducing corruption in public procurement processes (with the National Directorate of Public Procurement, DNCP, Paraguay)
- Data driven prioritisation of independent fostering agency inspections (with Ofsted)
Connaughton hopes this will be the start of an ongoing DSSG initiative based in the UK, and the organisers are currently seeking sponsorship and funding. This is an opportunity for the UK data science community, both inside and outside academia, to renew its commitment to ensuring that the power of data is deployed in ethical, responsible and sustainable ways for the public good.
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