Ubiquitous sensors and sources everywhere deliver deep and diverse data as the new fuel for value creation in nearly every industry and organization. The bonanza of digital benefits includes insightful discoveries, smarter decisions, essential innovations, and better outcomes.
Since the early days of the current big data, data science, and artificial intelligence (AI) technology revolutions, many data scientists have been motivated (even compelled) to apply these data collections and their skills with advanced algorithms to solving important problems with significant societal impact.
In some organizations, internal data hackathons are used to encourage use (and quality improvements) of their data collections, to tackle difficult business problems (both for the organization itself and for its clients), and to inspire innovative solutions and new ideas that might inform the development of new business strategies or new products.
“Data for good” and “AI for social good” are rallying cries for numerous data hackathons, open data initiatives, datafests, codefests, and machine learning challenge competitions worldwide. All are welcome (and encouraged) to participate, regardless of skill level. The participants are very willing to trade a few hours on a weekend to learn new techniques, solve challenging problems, explore interesting datasets, develop potentially valuable solutions, and share some pizza with new friends.
Pizza with friends is great, but has limited geographical reach. Conversely, online challenge competitions—which crowdsource hard problems in need of an AI machine learning solution across massive data collections—tend to have the largest participation. The reason for the larger participation is primarily because they are not confined to a specific day or location, are online with global reach, and the challenge problem typically has rich societal consequences. These competitions encourage collaboration, code-sharing, open discussion, and innovation on a phenomenal worldwide scale. The United Nations’ Data for Climate Action Challenge is one example.