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It’s Saturday, and Staff Technologist Connie Fan and a group of her fellow data scientists and mathematicians are spending their day off huddled in a conference room to combat human trafficking—with math.
“This is something I really care about,” she says. “And it’s an opportunity to use a quantitative approach to a problem that is so purely human-based.”
It’s hard sometimes to for people to see the how numbers can help.
At the Human Trafficking Hackathon, they do.
There are at least 20 million sex slaves in the world, mostly women and children. Booz Allen Hamilton teamed up with not-for-profit Polaris to disrupt human trafficking networks by using data on illicit massage businesses to find and stop traffickers.
Connie and the other hackathon participants were able to reliably predict whether massage businesses were illicit or legitimate based on registered business names. And by automating the collection of data sources and building a risk identification algorithm, data scientists tracked usernames shared on other social networks or forums to help identify more illicit businesses in the future.
Together, Booz Allen and Polaris worked to better automate the mapping process, take on bigger cities containing hundreds—even thousands—of massage businesses, and train the model for wider circulation. Polaris had manually mapped 35 businesses; the algorithm was able identify 900.
“In the movies, where there’s a guy putting pushpins into a bulletin board and connecting the dots with yarn, it’s like that, but in our computers,” Connie says. "I’m making a difference for these women and children by doing what I’m good at—math.”
“The communities we convene are bringing about positive change in the world—working together to solve serious problems that affect millions of people.”
- Booz Allen artificial intelligence strategist Dr. Lauren Neal
Hundreds of Booz Allen employees have dedicated thousands of hours to contribute to solving major societal issues like human trafficking, including state-sponsored genocide and heart disease. It’s part of what we call “Data Science for Social Good," and it's one way we're using technology and innovation for social impact.
“There are big, complex, hairy problems out there in the world, and data science is a great tool to break down those problems,” says Booz Allen Senior Vice President Mark Jacobsohn, known as Jake. “If we don’t dive in and help, these issues will continue to be intractable. There’s a lot of good that data science can accomplish.”
Our Data Science for Social Good program spans nearly a dozen projects that take us out of the office and off the clock. From hackathons to high-stakes academic games, here are a few of the ways we’re giving back—while pushing the science of data forward.
Our data-hacktivists signed up to fight another global shame: genocide. The Early Warning Project, an initiative of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, aims to assess a country’s level of risk for mass killings. The museum asked us to validate their data analysis approach, and explore new ones.
The museum’s researchers can now do more than just monitor ongoing state-sponsored violence. The algorithms developed during the hackathon predict where this kind of violence is most likely to occur 1-2 years into the future, to gauge the potential for mass atrocities around the world.
The data science we practice can also improve global health. We present the Data Science Bowl, in partnership with Kaggle. Each year the international event catalyzes the worldwide data science community around a societal challenge.
“The Data Science Bowl strives to accomplish what more than one individual, one organization, or one industry can accomplish alone,” says Dr. Lauren Neal, a senior data scientist
In its first 2 years, more than 1,800 teams participated in the Data Science Bowl, creating more than 22,000 submissions. In 2015-2016, we looked at how to more accurately diagnose heart disease. The winners provided cardiologists with an objective diagnostic model that eliminates measurement bias.
Now, the National Institutes of Health is in the early stages of testing and disseminating the findings.
The 2017 Data Science Bowl joined the fight against lung cancer by helping accelerate early detection. We're grateful for the many sponsors who stepped forward with in-kind contributions of services and technology. In addition, this year's competition had one of the largest cash prizes ever: $1 million, provided by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. Read all about the winners here.
With our Data Science for Social Good program—which covers a dozen efforts in all—we get back as much as we give. Our data scientists and analysts gain valuable experience working these complex efforts to help prevent genocide, stop human trafficking, and transforming how we diagnose heart failure and lung cancer. It’s about empowering and igniting the passion of talent across our firm to creatively solve the world’s most painful problems. We believe that data science can bring positive change, and give a voice to those who can’t speak for themselves. We’ve seen it done. And there's so much more to do.
“We know there’s a lot more than just money at stake here. For us, it’s an opportunity to use our skills to help save lives,” says Jake. “It’s not just a bolted-on thing. It’s part of who we are as a firm.”