Data Discovery: Insights from the Human Face of Big Data

Only 13% of middle-aged women think better romance would improve their lives, compared to 27% of college-aged women who have the same notion. The middle-aged women would rather have better jobs that pay more.

That’s one of the insights that’s been generated by the data discovery project called The Human Face of Big Data, which has gathered 2.4 million answers – via a mobile app – to more than 60 different questions about human preferences posed in eight different languages.

The project allows people to download an app to their smartphones to stream data – like the number of emails sent, location data and “answers about yourself, your family, trust, sleep, sex, dating, and dreams” – to photographer Rick Smolan from September through Nov. 20.

Smolan and his team of data scientists will interpret and analyze the data and report the results from the experiment during a media event.

Other results of the project as of Oct. 10 include:

  • Women are 10% less likely to remember their dreams than men
  • Seventy-six percent of people between 35 and 44 would marry someone they could not have kids with
  • Eighty percent of college-aged men worry about their weight at least some of the time, while only 8% of women never think about their weight
  • Half of college-aged men think that exercise is key to their health, while 20% believe it’s diet; for middle-aged women it’s almost exactly opposite
  • People who value money over free time are less content with life
  • Comparing yourself to your parents leads to being happier; people who don’t compare themselves to their parents are more likely to think life is unfair
  • People who live in a safe neighborhood and know the names of their neighbors are more likely to believe that life has been fair to them

The aim of the project is to humanize the potential of big data, which has been unfairly characterized as “Big Brother” too often in the media, Smolan says.

“Big data is detecting earthquakes in tsunami-prone Japan, keeping traffic flowing on America’s highways, foiling counterfeit pharmaceuticals, battling mosquitoes from outer space, and providing citizens in the developing world with much-needed identity documents,” according to information on the website.

Jake Porway, a data scientist who heads up DataKind, a movement that’s aimed at “using data in the service of humanity,” spoke at the London launch of the Human Face of Big Data project. He’s calling for better uses of open data, according to the Wall Street Journal.

His organization hopes to show charities, nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations what they can do with all the data that they generate.

“One of the toughest problems for charities is how do they deal with data,” he says.

One way to do this is by introducing modern technology to developing nations.

Here’s an example:

The recession has prompted many people to abandon swimming pools that have now become mosquito breeding grounds, says Dave Lundberg, chief operating officer for aWhere, a Colorado-based company that enables the integration of agricultural, environmental and public health data. Lundberg tells the WSJ that he can take the technology for tracking infested swimming pools and potentially apply it to help developing nations fight mosquito-borne diseases.

“When you combine information about where water collects, with weather patterns and other data you can start to plan campaigns to attack the mosquitos, or to take prophylactic measures,” he says.

Combining this big data can allow teams to more effectively distribute malaria nets or do mosquito spraying in developing countries, he adds.

“Democratization of data is a real issue,” Lundberg says. “And people do try to protect data for good reasons, or bad. But once they have seen the value their data can generate when combined with other sources, then the walls start to crumble.”

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