big-dataBig data is often associated with improving business, but it also has considerable potential for social good. You’ve probably heard people mention big data when talking about targeted marketing or other corporate activities, but it can help improve society too.

People throughout history have critiqued technology for its destructive potential, but in the right hands, it can have the opposite effect. Such is the case with big data. While it can be easy to criticize it for how people may abuse it, it’s far more productive to think of how to use big data for good.

Here are five areas in which we can and are harnessing the power of big data for social progress.

Medicine

Big data analytics can help prevent disease outbreaks. By gathering and analyzing information on outbreak patterns, medical professionals may be able to contain diseases before they spread. If you think this sounds far-fetched, you may be surprised to learn that this has already happened with the coronavirus.

A Canadian tech startup called BlueDot predicted the outbreak weeks before the Chinese government enacted travel restrictions. BlueDot looked at reports of sick people in Wuhan and records of hospital meetings and recognized the early warning signs of a virus outbreak. By looking at travel patterns, they even predicted it could spread to Thailand and Japan, which it did.

Sustainability

Big data and related technologies like cloud computing can help protect the environment. One of the key ways it can aid sustainability is in the field of agriculture. Big data can provide farmers with predictive analytics that help them use only the resources they need, leading to increased conservation.

Using tools to gather data like soil quality and water usage, farmers can tweak their approach to get the most out of their harvest. These techniques allow them to produce more food with less waste.

Big data also relies heavily on cloud computing, which is more sustainable than traditional methods of data storage. Using the cloud requires less energy consumption and less physical infrastructure.

Education

Education quality can vary widely even within the same district. Schools with access to more tools like internet-based learning can provide a better education than those without these resources. By using big data, companies like Unicef are determining what schools require additional resources so school systems can see where they need to provide the most help.

Predictive analytics by way of big data can also help teachers and other staff help at-risk students. These analytics can tell faculty members which students may be in danger of dropping out so they can provide additional support before it’s too late.

Safety

Predictive analytics may also help point out physical risks. Analytic software may be able to predict workplace injuries by looking at things like a worker’s experience, potential occupational hazards and company safety measures. With these predictions, companies could enable new safety procedures or monitor things more closely to prevent injury.

Big data may not be able to foresee major incidents like airplane crashes because of their rarity, but it has potential in commonly dangerous workplaces. As data analytics systems improve, so will the possibility of this being a practical reality.

Humanitarian Efforts

Humanitarian efforts are often hindered by it being difficult to determine where the most need is. Big data analytics can look at historical and trending hotspots of need so services can know where to focus their efforts during a crisis.

By mapping these charity hotspots, governments and nonprofits alike can prepare for future crises. They can set up the infrastructure necessary for providing aid before disaster strikes.

Big data can seem like a scary concept, but it has the potential to revolutionize social progress. With careful use and technological advancement, the future of philanthropy looks bright, thanks to big data.

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