Balancing the data scales

May 11th, 2017, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: PositionIT

 

Clare van Zwieten

The recent elections in France, and not so recently in the US, have exposed how data can be used to influence the results of elections. Companies like Google and Facebook are acquiring massive global repositories of data resources and developing algorithms to analyse and filter data which can then be used by commercial and political interests to further their particular goals. (A recent article in The Guardian is very illuminating on this point.)

While it is concerning that data is being used to subvert democracies, there are also many instances where data collaboration and analysis are helping to change our world for the better. The recent International Symposium on Remote Sensing of the Environment 2017 held in Pretoria, highlighted how scientific data is being collected and analysed by an international assortment of space agencies and projects in order to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals which seek to eradicate poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all.

At this august gathering which showcased how satellite imagery and data can be used to have a positive impact on our world, it was somewhat surprising to hear comments about remote sensing data not being shared in developed countries such as Britain and Norway. While complaints about data silos are common in South Africa, it is often assumed that the rest of the developed world is playing nicely and sharing their data for the benefit of their societies. This however, appears not to be the case.

Inadequate sharing of data is actually an international problem. Data silos exist everywhere and it is important to realise that in many instances they are not deliberately created to prevent data sharing, but are created by a combination of ignorance, inability and inertia. To put it simply, these stockpiles of underutilised geo-intelligence data are gathering dust because the immense socio-economic potential of geospatial data and remote sensing imagery is not yet fully understood by many leaders of organisations, businesses and societies.

Geospatial and remote sensing scientists are sitting on a treasure trove of data which is capable of radically transforming our societies for the better. In order to effectively use this data for the public good, these specialists need to do much more to highlight the socio-economic potential and value of this data and the extensive benefits that can be derived from using and sharing it.

Geo-intelligence professionals are going to have to work together, in their official capacities and informally, to actively promote the use of geospatial data and remote sensing imagery. They also need to identify new and innovative ways of doing this in order to get their message heard by the people who count, the decision makers.

If they don’t, it is likely that the data scales will tip dangerously in favour of vested interests that understand the commercial and political benefits, but won’t necessarily have the greater good in mind.

Send your comments to positionit@ee.co.za

Subscribe to our leading email newsletters

FREE-OF-CHARGE

CLICK for other EE Publishers information products