It was a big data day, indeed!

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March 19th, BI hosted an event by the name Oslo Big Data Day! In my opinion, this was an exciting event showcasing the multitude of ways in which machine learning techniques can be used, as well as the issues surrounding such technology.

The day in itself
Big Data is somewhat of a hype. Just think about it. People are willing to set aside a whole day just to listen, learn and discuss issues concerning big data! This is a remarkable phenomenon. Ten years ago, if you told someone that you were going to a data day, they would probably think “Well, now, that’s a geek fest!” Now, it’s cool. It is a manifestation of how important technology is to the public and private sector. We are in the midst of the digitalization process. The way I see it, it is also very positive that BI hosted such an event. The event is organized by Xplorico. Xplorico is a firm that facilitates start-ups in innovation, growth and value creation. BI and SHE are partners. SHE is an organization working promoting gender balance in business innovation and growth. It really was a celebration of possibilities provided by artificial intelligence. At the same time, the festivities happed in controlled forms. Some people reminded of the problems and ethical considerations that comes with these possibilities. “With great powers comes great responsibility!”

The times are changing, and we must roll with it. But at the same time, dangers rest in the shadows.

What’s at stake here?
Why are people so interested in attending such an event? Why do all these people gather? Well, they know that they must be aware. Businesses, public entities and others must be informed. They must pay attention. The worst-case scenario is that they fall behind. I would argue that this concerns three elements: expertise, resources and attitudes. If these organizations don’t have the right people who knows how to use the tools, then it is impossible to extract any value out of it. However, you can employ all the right people. You might even want your company to use the state-of-the-art techniques to extract information. But you still need resources. You need the right processes, the right technology and the right strategy to use the expertise. Firms like Xplorico might have an important role to play here. A pottle of gold might wait at the end of the rainbow, but if you’re not able to get hold of the gold it doesn’t help much. Finally, one must have the right attitudes. I do believe it to be important to be enthusiastic about new technology. The times are changing, and we must roll with it. But at the same time, dangers rest in the shadows. We might end up using corrupted data. This can have huge implications for decision-makers. When the dust settles, there is only one thing that really matters: the value created by the technology. It is nice to know the tools (especially for those of us who enjoys the combination of informatics, mathematics and statistics), but they are only a means to an end. What really matters is what these tools can give us in form of information. This was another thing that was discussed at the Oslo Big Data Day. In fact, there was a lot of focus on data security, privacy issues and value creation.

It is something that everybody should care for. Machine learning is as relevant to physicians and economists as it is to lawyers and biologists.

Diversity of topics
One thing that really struck me was the diversity of topics discussed during the Oslo Big Data Day. The day was separated into two sections: A common section, and then a section where the attendees divided into two groups. Some went down the public track and some others went down the private track. My main interest and experience is in the public sector, so I chose the public track. I am very impressed by the variety of people who spoke at the conference. There were people working in the health sector, the principal at OsloMet, historians working with the Kennedy files, others working on Smart Cities. This is nothing new of course, but it is still an inspiration to see such diversity. Name me a sector of the economy and I will name you a sector where you can use artificial intelligence. It is something that everybody should care for. Machine learning is as relevant to physicians and economists as it is to lawyers and biologists.

Photo from Facebook: Eirik Norman AS

What the conference gave me, personally
To me, the conference was an inspiration. It was an inspiration to keep up my work in combining economic modelling, econometrics and machine learning. It was also an inspiration to get a deeper understanding in the ethical issues surrounding machine learning. After the conference, I read the wonderful award-winning book “Hello World.” written by Hannah Fry, subtitled “How to Be Human in the Age of the Machine”. Oslo Big Data gave a wonderful introduction into the ups and downs of modern technology. But in spite of all technology, people are still making the decisions and we should try to focus even more on how to combine human intuition with technological computation.  All in all, it was a very big data day, indeed!

Sondre Elstad

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