Big Data — Events

LIRNEasia was proud to partner on Sri Lanka’s first national symposium on Data for Sustainable Development. Held over two days (March 20-21), the event offered a unique platform to share LIRNEasia’s views and experience on the use of data for the SDGs, particularly in relation to our big data work. Sriganesh Lokanathan, Team Leader – Big Data research moderated the first session of the symposium, and was part of a panel discussion on day 2. I had the opportunity to showcase LIRNEasia’s experience on using Big data for SDGs at a session that was co-presented with UN Global Pulse. At the first session, Sriganesh moderated a panel that emphasized the importance of data to achieve the SDGs, and set the tone for the symposium.
It is natural to think of state entities as the key actors in south-south cooperation (SSC) for improving public-service delivery. But as the highlighted example of Bangladesh’s Union Digital Centers (UDCs) shows, non-state actors can play important roles in public-service innovation. If true innovation is the objective, it would behoove the UN Office for South-South Cooperation and other interested parties to cast the net wider to include innovative organizational mechanisms as well as government innovations.
A confluence is the junction of two rivers, especially rivers of approximately equal width. My session at SAARC Law 2017 is entitled Confluence of Law and Technology. The way I see it, there is no alternative but to relax the requirement that the metaphorical rivers be of equal width. Unless, of course, we define law in the Lessig manner, East Coast Code being old style ink on paper interpreted by judges law and West Coast Code being self-enforcing rules built into hardware and software. So, anyway, I worked up a set of slides being from the tech side of the world.
The inaugural board meeting of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD, more popularly known for their twitter @data4SDGs) was held on the 22nd of September.  I  participated as a GPSDD board member. Significant achievements have been made by GPSDD since its inception, culminating in high level support for the need for good data to measure SDGs, with many nation states making statements at the UN General Assembly which concluded just two days before the board meeting. But countries saying the right things (i.e.
A team of GIS experts at LIRNEasia is building an open re-demarcation tool to encourage trust in the process of electoral reforms.
Governments should not be flying blind. Now the tools of big data are available to reduce their ignorance. But we will not be able to use big data effectively if the narrative is dominated by utopian hype and dystopian scare mongering. For that we need effective, fit-for-purpose public public policy and regulation for big data (including algorithms), not remnants of 1970s thinking such as informed consent and strict purpose specification. For example, the above shibboleths do not provide any remedy for the real harms of lack of security of data storage.
The digital world is exploding with uncountable data. Millions of users generate information via thousands of sources every day. This data is then consumed for a number of purposes from business to entertainment. Is there a purpose and potential for big data beyond business and entertainment? The big data team at LIRNEasia is trying to answer this question.
Professor Gregg Vanderheiden has a record of achievements in enabling the differently abled to use technology such as personal computers and automated teller machines. Through Raising the Floor, an international organization that he established, Professor Vanderheiden is working on an ambitious initiative to create a platform that will make it possible for various interfaces to “morph” into forms accessible to users with disabilities (which includes many people who are not so identified ordinarily). For the interfaces to be fully responsive to the unique needs of each of the users, the platform would have to know about their preferences and behaviors. Raising the Floor is taking the issues of putting in place strong safeguards for these data and to ensure that harms are avoided. For this purpose, they convened expert groups in Geneva and Washington DC.
The Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science (SLAAS) is the primary “learned society” for Sri Lankan academics. It’s a rather staid outfit where I think you need multiple nominees to support your application to join and they reject papers if they’re not in the correct font (I may be exaggerating a little because this is based on my memories from the 1980s). Anyway, Sriganesh Lokanathan, Team Leader – Big Data Research at LIRNEasia had been asked by the University of Sri Jayewardenepura to pull together a 60 mt panel discussion on big data for development. He had got an excellent panel together, Ruvan Weerasinghe from University of Colombo/Informatics Institute of Technology, Shehan Perera from University of Moratuwa, Srinath Perera from WSO2 and himself. I moderated the panel.
I was competitively selected to attend the Self-Organizing Conference on Machine Learning 2016 organized by OpenAI which was held in San Francisco on October 7-8, 2016. OpenAI is a non-profit artificial intelligence (AI) research company initiated by Elon Musk and top research scientists in AI and machine learning (ML) to promote safe and friendly AI. Since its inception in late 2015 the company has attracted top researchers and scientists from both industry and academia to work on most interesting problems of AI. The Self-Organizing Conference on Machine Learning 2016 was an experimental gathering that OpenAI organized for the first time to promote collaboration amongst AI/ML researchers, overcoming the overheads of a conventional academic conference. This is how they presented the motive behind organizing this event.
I was invited to speak to the staff of the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission in Seville last Tuesday (11th October 2016). Their colleagues from Ispra, Italy joined in via video conference as well. I talked about LIRNEasia’s experiences and lessons in leveraging big data for public purposes. The slides that I used are available HERE.
We have been engaging with local universities from the start of our big data work, not just to source researchers and collaborators, but also to broaden the horizons of students. That big data can be leveraged for public purposes is not something that they had previously thought of till we arrived on the scene. This week (18th October 2016) we continued those efforts, conducting a lecture for students at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura on our ongoing big data for development research. The slides are available HERE.
LIRNEasia in partnership with the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) convened a two-day workshop to discuss a ‘research and policy agenda on big data for sustainable development in the Global South.’ The workshop held in Madrid on the 8th and 9th of October 2016, was a side event of the International Open Data Conference 2016.  The objective of the workshop was to brainstorm ways of establishing Southern-led network to tackle some of the emerging opportunities and challenges in the use of big data in developing countries. The workshop explored a variety of issues around leveraging big data to tackle sustainable development. These include issues around representativity and marginalization, researching harms (competition, privacy, surveillance), researching solutions (legislation, regulation, ethics), and addressing challenges in relation to developing research capacity, accessing data and influencing policy.
I hope to write more about the insightful discussions at the workshop convened by LIRNEasia and CIS. For now, here are the slides I used to frame the discussion on Harms from Surveillance, (In)security, and impacts upon Privacy and Competition. Image source.
With support from the International Development Research Centre of Canada, LIRNEasia and the Center for Internet and Society are today convening a meeting of researchers working on aspects of big data for development in the Global South. The hope is that we will be able to contribute to shaping a research and policy agenda and map out a path for productive collaboration. A document was prepared as the basis for discussion. Here is an excerpt: However, it is important that those engaged in policy analysis make the effort to understand what data is available, in what formats and what is being done with it. For example, the mobile networks in developing countries are different from those in developed economies.
LIRNEasia is currently hosting  Dr Ayumi Arai from the University of Tokyo’s Center for Spatial Information Science. She is also a Research Fellow with LIRNEasia collaborating on our big data for development research in Sri Lanka. We took the opportunity to organize a lecture for her yesterday (14th July 2016) for the senior staff of the Department of Census and Statistics (DCS) Sri Lanka, as preamble to a longer discussion with the department to collaborate with LIRNEasia and our partners on big data and official statistics in Sri Lanka. Dr Arai’s talk was on her ongoing Dynamic Census research work in Bangladesh which utilizes mobile network big data and official statistics to provide spatio-temporal insights on the socio-economic and demographic characteristics of the population at high granularity and high frequency. The slides from her talk are available HERE.