Can we maximise the potential of 'Big Data' while avoiding its misuse?

The Renaissance and Age of Enlightenment overturned old orthodoxy and led to extraordinary scientific advances and social revolution. But those discoveries and their impact pale in the face of today’s ‘Information Age’. Ninety percent of the world’s existing data has been produced in the past two years. It’s a staggering wealth of material and it is estimated that less than one percent has been fully utilised. Over the past decade businesses, industry, the health sector, service organisations and government have been encouraged to collect data.

The question now is: How can we use data to improve decision-making, add value and perform better? Several of our faculties are already involved in the research and application of theoretical and practical aspects of mining data. In a joint venture between Orion Health, district health boards and the University, researchers from Science, Engineering and Medical & Health Sciences are developing innovative ‘big data’ informed by approaches to the provision of healthcare. The Intelligent Systems and Informatics research group in the Faculty of Science is exploring the use of intelligent computing techniques to improve the quality of healthcare delivery, with particular attention to the management of chronic disease.

In the Faculty of Engineering, the healthcare analytics group’s work with district health boards includes planning surgical schedules to reduce unnecessary delays and streamlining hospital rosters for general medicine registrars.

['Big Data'] will transform the way we approach the treatment and avoidance of diseases, the ways we educate our children to succeed, our approaches to managing and mitigating climate change and our understanding of customers and their needs.

Professor John Hosking, Dean Faculty Of Science

The astronomical rise of computing power in the past 50 years and its capacity to grow will also enable greater and greater use of huge sets of data. The potential benefits are universal – from supporting work to restore and sustain our marine ecosystems and improving Auckland’s transport system, to predicting population growth and its effects and providing policy makers and leaders with robust tools to better plan for the future.

But this proliferation of information comes with a dark side. There are 25 billion devices connected to the internet. By 2020 there will be 50 billion. How can we legislate for and manage that unstoppable flow of information across different platforms and jurisdictions? Three areas are of particular concern: intellectual property and piracy; criminal and other harmful digital communications; and the increasingly fraught area of privacy.

The Faculty of Law, with experts in the field of cyber law and information technology, is establishing the Information and Communications Technology Law Centre. Having such a centre in New Zealand will promote the benefits of the internet and protect its potential. It will provide research and support to the legal profession, business and civil society organisations and inform policy and legislation. Meanwhile, on the technology front, cybersecurity experts in Computer Science are engaged in making our communications and data storage systems safer and more secure.

The power of ‘big data’ will be limited only by the resources that can be made available to unlock its potential.

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To find out more about how you can help, contact Kiri-Ann Olney.

Kiri-Ann Olney, Development Manager, Faculty of Science

M: 027 538 8802