How Data Can Predict the Spread of Ebola, Make More Wine, and Maybe Save Your Life

Oct 7, 2014

Drone aircraft pilots collect data from California vineyards in an effort to improve crop yields.

Nowadays, the term “big data” is tossed around a lot. But what do advances in data science mean for the U.S. economy, and what sort of impact can we expect data to have over the next few years? 

These are a few of the issues that leading data experts are addressing today at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s summit on Data-Driven Innovation, which features such speakers as Qing Wu, a senior economist at Google, and Julie Brill, a commissioner at the Federal Trade Commission.

But what effect does data have on your life? Though of course not without limitations, data science is already causing a fundamental reordering of how companies manage operations, target customers, and identify new markets. Data is capable of a whole lot more, however, and it’s useful for people outside of business, too. 

Researchers are using data to better visualize the prevalence of HIV infections in certain parts of the U.S., while farmers are leveraging data to improve farm equipment performance. They’re also harnessing the data collected by drones to reduce water use, fight pests, and better monitor crop yields.

Data is also playing an increasingly vital role in disease detection and prevention, with researchers now studying how it can be used to improve blood-testing procedures and even whether data predicted the recent Ebola outbreak that originated in West Africa. More and more, data is also being used to tackle vexing systemic problems, as researchers and policymakers are leveraging vast datasets to cut domestic violence, make cities safer, and improve emergency response times.

Given the ever-increasing reliance on data, it’s perhaps unsurprising that demand has skyrocketed for workers with strong data analysis skills. As these stories clearly demonstrate, we’re living in a data-driven world, and it’s now more important than ever to understand what that means moving forward. 

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