Data Science Can Help Change the World -- Claudia Perlich, Chief Scientist, Dstillery

By WomenAdvancing Archives
Cover image for  article: Data Science Can Help Change the World -- Claudia Perlich, Chief Scientist, Dstillery

In our media world, the title of “data scientist” is typically bestowed upon those who possess the combination of mathematical expertise, hacking skills and business acumen needed to drive consumer awareness, interest, engagement and purchase activity. These rare minds are much sought after as media grows ever more data-centric and can expect to be well compensated for their talents.

Be that as it may, some data scientists are driven to seek fulfillment beyond the lucrative application of their minds to finance, product recommendations and ad placement. They find themselves exploring a wide variety of exciting opportunities to help tackle the world’s greatest challenges. Often they volunteer their time toward such efforts because they’re in it more for the fun and challenge of the puzzle than the financial rewards. And the best of those efforts are changing lives, environments, cultures and more.

During the final week of August, I had the honor of serving as co-chair of the KDD 2014, a 20-year-old conference that brings together academics and practitioners of knowledge discovery and data mining. The theme was “Data Mining for Social Good,” and our aim was to connect the 2,000-plus attending data scientists with NGOs. With the help of Bloomberg’s philanthropic department, we invited speakers from nonprofits to take the stage and present their respective challenges. The floor was open to give those in attendance opportunities to converse and, hopefully, collaborate with these organizations.

During the conference, the world’s top data scientists gathered with the nonprofits to present groundbreaking work and challenges. Participants included Bloomberg, Disney, Facebook, Google, Groupon, IBM, LexisNexis, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Sprint, United Nations Global Pulse, Yahoo and nearly every major U.S. university.

Since most of you were likely preparing for a holiday weekend with family and friends rather than attending a conference focused on machine learning’s impact on water conservation, I’m proud to share that dozens of social good-infused projects and papers were delivered.

The KDD Cup alone drew more than 1,000 data scientists across 500 teams that volunteered to deliver on the mission of helping NYC-based DonorsChoose.org evaluate the quality of projects submitted by teachers seeking donations from the public to enhance classroom learning. Two thousand dollars was given to each of the top three teams, most of which has already been donated by the winners.

Throughout the conference, participants also had the opportunity to hear from and engage with the world’s best data science minds, including the authors of the following papers:

The EARS system combines messages shared in real-time on Twitter with data mining and natural language processing techniques to select crisis-relevant sets of tweets. They then apply a burst detection algorithm to identify seismic events and broadcast out warnings via a dedicated Twitter account and by email.

This paper focuses on GiveDirectly, a non-governmental organization that is developing and deploying a data-driven system for locating villages with extreme poverty in Kenya and Uganda and generating unconditional cash transfers via mobile telephony as a new approach to giving.

This paper addresses the gas consumption and pollution emission of vehicles traveling on various road networks using GPS trajectories in order to analyze cost-efficient driving routes and road segments where gas has been significantly wasted.

While we expect that KDD 2014 will inspire many more examples of groundbreaking collaborations among data scientists and NGOs, we can’t -- and won’t -- stop there. We’re already conducting an initial test of a year-round virtual marketplace (similar to DonorsChoose) where data scientists can easily connect with NGOs to help address global issues.

We hope the activity centered on our theme “Data Mining for Social Good” will enlighten a growing legion of data scientists to the impact their skills can have beyond the business arena. We truly have the capacity to change the world, and I believe the time to act is now. If you’ve read this far, thank you. I encourage you to join us!

Claudia Perlich serves as Chief Scientist at Dstillery and in this role designs, develops, analyzes and optimizes the machine learning that drives digital advertising to prospective customers of brands. An active industry speaker and frequent contributor to industry publications, Claudia was recently named winner of the Advertising Research Foundation’s (ARF) Grand Innovation Award and was selected as member of the Crain’s NY annual 40 Under 40 list.

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