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Understanding how big data can help solve global problems

Big data analytics are available to everyone — All we have to do is turn on our computer and start looking. IBM estimates that by 2020, there will be more than 300 times the information that we had available in 2005. But one issue centers around how we use that information to solve problems.

Paul Szyarto, head of the Big Data program at Rutgers University, notes that while many of the world’s poorer nations are turning to big data analytics in solving problems in development, from farming to climate change, a lack of technology infrastructure is holding them back.

Big data usually includes data sets that are so large, they are beyond the capability of commonly used software tools. We are talking about files ranging from a few dozen terabytes to many petabytes of data. The sheer volume of data available is amazing. Thus, the need for proper technology infrastructure.

File photo: Hurricane specialist uses a computer at the National Hurricane Center in Miami  Florida ...

File photo: Hurricane specialist uses a computer at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida, to track the path of Hurricanes.
Joe Raedle, Getty Images/AFP

Nations like Kenya and India are using big data gathered on weather patterns and using weather models to forecast climate variations to adapt agriculture practices, boost crop yields and tackle food insecurity.

In West Africa, big data is being used to tackle diseases by gathering information on previous disease outbreaks and the routes of they spread over. In this way, high-risk zones can be identified and then targeted with prevention programs. We have seen this being done with Ebola, malaria and other diseases.
Further reading: New model helps to predict future Ebola outbreaks
Szyarto told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Monday that developing nations are not using big data analytics to their full potential, primarily due to not enough investment in tech infrastructure, like hardware, servers and computers.

“Thanks to technologically advanced countries, there are several models which could be leveraged to analyze data, but most developing countries lack the infrastructure to capture, gather, store and analyze the data being created,” Szyarto said, via an email interview.
Further reading: India’s colonial-era weather forecasting is going high-tech
Szyarto is a global expert on business transformation and advises firms on changes needed in coping with shifts in the market environment. But he says that “Many developing countries don’t possess the knowledge needed to drive a value-added program around the use of big data.”

The point he is making is actually quite simple — With all the information available today, knowledgeable people, using the right technology can utilize large volumes of data to assess the risks and long-term effects of the environmental impacts of climate change on the economy, health, food sustainability and energy.

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We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our dear friend Karen Graham, who served as Editor-at-Large at Digital Journal. She was 78 years old. Karen's view of what is happening in our world was colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in humankind's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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