by Sean Koehl, Intel Labs
In just a few weeks, pioneering citizens across the United States will blaze new trails for social innovation in an event of unprecedented scope. Nearly one hundred teams across the country, supported by more than 20 government agencies, will come together with a common purpose: to invent new applications that leverage open, public data for the common good. This is the National Day of Civic Hacking.
Wouldn’t you like an app that scours a multitude of online resources to connect your college-bound child with the right scholarships and grants? That consolidates the best options for after-school activities across your city for a younger child that fits with your schedule and budget? Or, perhaps one that helps you quickly cut through red tape to secure the best resources to care for an aging relative?
Those of us at Intel Labs have been proud to help develop, fund, and promote this event not only because of the important projects it will spawn, but because it will foster our evolution into what we call a “data society.” The world has been madly digitizing everything from music and books to business transactions and scientific data, but we have only begun to understand it’s potential. We often call this trend “Big Data” because the flood of bits and bytes can be overwhelming. But the real implication of Big Data has been to teach us the hidden value that lies within all of our digital information. Businesses and scientists have already learned that it is gold mine of insight and wisdom. We want to make this true not just for big institutions, but for everyday people trying to find the resources they need for a better life. Civic hackers are pioneers because they are charting new territory into the digital unknown, helping individuals to harness the power of information for themselves, their communities, and society at large.
Our researchers, led by anthropologists like Ken Anderson and business innovators like Brandon Barnett, began their own explorations into this world of data over a year ago. Their studies had shown that people want technology that knows them, which makes their lives easier, and which could connect them to something larger than themselves. They began to envision data in a new way – “vibrant data” that could achieve these things for people by actively making these connections for them. They imagined a new kind of data economy where such information would be the primary currency of value exchange.
They also realized that a new era would require new methods of exploration, so they launched a crowdsourcing project to draw upon a community of experts to develop a plan of attack. The results, which can be seen at wethedata.org, outlined four “grand challenges” that we need to work together to address:
Digital Access: Giving more people access to information technologies
Data Literacy: Helping non-experts easily draw meaning from data
Digital Trust: Providing assurances that our data won’t be misused
Platform Openness: Online platforms that allow data to be copied & modified
These ideas were what Brandon and Ken used to develop a common framework and example scenarios (e.g. childcare resources and urban senior) for local teams to use as a guide in developing their own challenges for the National Day of Civic Hacking.
Our data is worth more than we know. It says something about who we are, and by applying the right analytical tools it can connect us to what we need. Today you might laugh at the fact that you used to have to go to a library to look up a fact. Tomorrow, even Internet searches will seem quaint because data-centric applications like the ones conceived at this event will automatically bring you what you need, as you need it. We look forward to living in a new data society, and hope you’ll join us in making it a reality.
Hackers at a Random Hacks of Kindness hackathon in Seattle. Photo by Aaron Parecki.