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Community digital ecosystem for the environment  big data worldwide | Upload Society

Digital Ecosystem For The Environment: Big Data Worldwide

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by: Sharai Hoekema
digital ecosystem for the environment  big data worldwide | Upload

Big Data is a term reserved for technological advances in IT-related industries. This claim is often heard when discussing the topic of massive heaps of data collected from all kind of devices and sensors. Big Data is allegedly great in running algorithms and recognising patters, perhaps even predicting to some extent - but that is mostly beneficial to consumer- and financial industries. Right?

Well, no. Completely wrong, in fact. Big Data is a player that should never be underestimated in any context. Regardless of whether you understand the benefits of collecting data that allows you to quickly act on it - the reality is that there are a whole lot of them. This also applies to the environment. Much can be said for incorporating Big Data in some kind of digital ecosystem, meant to advocate promising initiatives and analysing and predicting trends.

Knowledge is key, and this is exactly what such a digital ecosystem would provide. Having environmental insights and patterns at your fingertips will make it that much easier to really act upon it - and hold others accountable if they are not.

Global environment data

Unfortunately, as nice as it sounds, we are still quite a way off from actually achieving something like this. This is often related to the very nature of our field: much of what we do and how we act is based on assumptions, anecdotal evidence, and largely incomplete data sets. If this is the basis for much of our financial investments and physical efforts, it is not hard to see why we are often hesitant to really push through.

Yet it is important to be aware of how much there already could be for us to use. We could quite easily get access to a wealth of data on the global environment. Using the technologies, techniques and tools available for dealing with this data, we could quite easily ‘assimilate’ what we are looking for. Using those valuable insights and patterns, we can find ourselves equipped with a powerful means of creating a sustainable future and actually changing the way that we interact with our planet.

Environmental history

Using data, we can make informed decisions. This goes for everything that we do in our lives. When we are buying a new TV, we will browse the internet for user reviews and product videos. Through our phones, we can check the weather forecast in the morning to decide what to wear. For the environment, you will find that data has much of the same analysing and forecasting power. 

The one problem? We are increasingly finding that a significant portion of the information that would be required for making such an informed decision is not readily available. For now, we are mostly piecing together snippets and tidbits of information, collected using vastly different methods and time periods - making them inherently flawed for actual use. As such, we have no steady basis that we can base our decisions on, effectively erasing the ‘informed’ from informed decision.

Recent reports from the UN are alarming. They showed that out of the 93 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a staggering 64 cannot yet be measured using reliable and meaningful indicators showing its progress. This is the result of a chronic lack of data, crippling our ability to get a good report card of how we are doing thus far. It should not be hard to see why this is worrying. 

This is why it is so important to start looking at ways of incorporating Big Data and related technologies in all that we do. The possibilities for monitoring the environment are endless, ranging from the use of satellites and drones to cloud computing, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, blockchain and a plethora of (mobile) apps. Through all of these technologies, we can measure and protect our environment much more efficiently than ever before.

Another hard truth is that none of the efforts taken thus far to reduce our strain on the world around us has actually worked. Especially now that the click is ticking - scientists have estimated that we only have about 10 years left to radically alter our ways -, it seems like an obvious solution that will, if invested in properly, pay off near-instantly. 

Granted, ten years is not a lot of time; especially considering that a bunch of different systems will have to be aligned in order to be able to take definitive action. Our social, political and economic systems must work together with the technology to be able to drastically change our ways. This might seem daunting, but it is something that has to be done. 

We largely created this mess and we will leave it to our children and grandchildren if we do nothing. There really is no alternative: we’ve got to get our act together, preferably today rather than tomorrow. Creating a digital ecosystem for the environment will definitely help us in getting things done. Connecting environmental governance with public-private partnerships through big data, groundbreaking technologies and analytics will allow us to foster expert communities - and ultimately receive much better environmental insights.

Global digital ecosystem for the environment

A few months ago, a group of companies, academics, UN member states, intergovernmental organisations and civil society actors came together to discuss how to move forward with Big Data, Analytics and Artificial Intelligence. Their main task was to envision some kind of global digital ecosystem for the environment. What would it look like, what partnerships would it benefit from? What are the benefits and potential pitfalls? Who is accountable and how to ensure that everyone cooperates to keep it as transparant as possible?

Those and many other questions were answered in the first discussion paper of this working group, that was issued in March 2019. The writers were enthusiastic and passionate about the prospect of a fully digital ecosystem, although they recognised that, if it is to become a global standard by 2020, it requires a great deal of action, leadership and trust. 

Below, I will highlight a number of particularly interesting elements that, according to this paper, should be considered before working on digital ecosystem harnessing Big Data of the environment.

Artificial intelligence, big data and algorithms we need

First of all, we must get a better grip on the problems we are dealing with. This can only be done by measuring them properly. Through Big Data and related technologies, we can be better informed and set ourselves up to be able to properly track and assess environmental trends and innovations. In the past, the limited availability of such data left a big gaping hole in the development and modelling of environmental policy options - something that can now be remedied.

After making an inventory of what data is already readily available, we will quickly find out what information is missing - and how we can go about generating this. Big Data and algorithms, generated and run using modern technologies, will most likely help us doing so - especially if data is clearly, uniformly and articulately collected by companies and governments alike. 

This kind of data can include information generated by open data cubes, providing spatial data on climate change parameters; which will help us to determine areas for growth and improvement on initiatives. This will make it easier to guarantee funding and investments for all kind of innovations.

Additionally, more data and insights regarding supply chains and raw resource usage will allow investors to recognise opportunities and dangers ahead of time, getting them more involved in sustainability practices and highlighting polluting and/or damaging activities. Blockchain, for instance, is slated to be a major help in this, as it allows for the creation of a transparant, traceable database showing all the steps or resources used. 

Finally, through the use of artificial intelligence, big data and all kinds of machine learning algorithms, consumers can be encouraged to think more about the environmental footprints of products they are considering. By tracing the supply chain and consumption patterns, it will be possible to find a way of changing consumer behaviour and, using gamification, reward programs and apps, encourage consumers to up their sustainability efforts.

People and companies

Another powerful element of a digital ecosystem is the actual people and companies that are making use of it. Social media in particular hugely influences the way that we interact with the world around us. It shapes our attitudes, perceptions, and invariably determines our actions. The recent commotion surrounding election influencing through social media should be enough to highlight how impactful this could potentially be.

However, while many people are looking at the dangers of this, it can be flipped around and used to our benefit as well - such as the mobilising of people, encouraging them to not only let their voices be heard in a meaningful manner, but also actively recruiting them to collect data on our ecosystem, global warming, biodiversity and other sustainability matters. Crowdsourcing and citizen science have never been more relevant than today.

Even the simple act of making people and companies aware of the issues and pointing out the impact it will have on their own lives will make a difference. Understanding the implications of the problems the world is facing today will help them to take action locally. Perhaps a minor change, but if those are added up, it can become a massive movement. 

Getting people aware of the problem, foregoing any ‘fake news’ probability but focussing on the matter at hand in an objective, scientific manner will get them on board and set in motion a sequence of micro-actions that can turn into something great. Markets can be influenced, just like consumer behaviour and actions - but only if they have access to the digital ecosystem that points the way forward. Making environmental data a global public good will make it easily accessible, open and available for analysis.

Satellites, drones, sensors and mobile applications. What are the risks?

Some of the ways in which we can generate the environmental data mentioned include satellites, drones, sensors and mobile apps that continuously measure a certain object, area of phenomenon. Therefore, those who are in control of those kinds of technologies, will find themselves a willing target for governments and international organisations hoping to get better insights.

The tech companies that are now holding those cards will find themselves faced with an interesting dilemma. Historically, they have been developing and acting upon their valuable data in a private manner, using it to outwit competition and make bigger profits. Their motivation is therefore largely based on the creation of profitable business models. The ultimate idea, as proven by companies as Google, Apple and Microsoft, is to find a way of locking in customers - making sure that they only benefit if they exclusively use their (affiliated) products and services.

As a result, much of the data and proprietary know-how available regarding digital infrastructures and cutting-edge data generating technologies is held close to the chest. They alone have access to the majority of this data, shifting decision-making power to a handful instead of the many. Often, valuable data is sold to another lucky few instead of shared with a larger group. An issue that has inevitably come up in this regard is that of privacy. 

After all, who owns the data? The party that collected it? The party that paid handsomely to receive it? Or the party who finds himself the subject of the data? If the plan is to release an armada of satellites, drones and sensors on our planet, the issue of data governance is bound to come up. How to respect the privacy of people and private companies, while still getting meaningful intel? As cliched as it may sound, information is power - and people are understandably afraid of anything or anyone that yields great power.

As no single party can or will be able to be ‘in charge’ of this data, it will likely be a scattered field of tech companies, parts manufacturers, digital gurus, infrastructure experts, scientists, governments, private persons and environmental groups. Which is great - what we need is the combined effort of all those stakeholders in order to move forward and create this global digital ecosystem where environmental data is available at a moment’s notice. Yet this makes the issue of who is in control more pressing.

In an ideal world, data in this digital ecosystem would be a public good. Yet in practice, there will be some pitfalls regarding individual privacy, intellectual property, data security, data quality assurance, transparency and purposely fake or malicious data entries. A watchdog will have to be appointed, while countries around the world will have to agree on certain guidelines and restrictions - these two preventive measures will be critical in validating and running this massive undertaking.

Harness the power of data, AI and mobile apps. How do we get there?

The basic idea is simple. If we can harness the power of Big Data, AI and mobile apps in a responsible and sensitive manner, we will find ourselves in a position where we are able to clearly see what is happening and therefore hold governments and institutions accountable. We will finally be able to track our progress on a large number of environmental indicators that have previously gone untracked. Simultaneously, we can analyse the trends and insights to make even more meaningful changes in the ‘way we do’, the ‘way we are’, and the ‘way we should be’.

Now that most of the technologies are widely available, this is the time to take action. We must move ahead of the game and look at the ten-year-deadline given to us as a challenge instead of a threat. Through the power of data, we can influence consumers on a microlevel, changing their own behaviour, awareness and actions when it comes to global warming and other pressing environmental issues. We can challenge long-held beliefs and, through millions of micro-actions and micro-changes, bring about significant change. 

Companies and governments can be held accountable for what they are (not) doing, while alternatives and solutions can be analysed and optimised to ensure we keep on making the right choices, every time we find ourselves at another crossroad. We can do so by making data sets as open as possible and involving companies, encouraging them to share their expertise, infrastructure and technologies on data science, cloud computing and artificial intelligence. 

Environmental data as a public good should be the norm, not the exception. Data that should be streamlined for transparency, accuracy, quality and comparability. Governments play an instrumental role in setting forth guidelines and deciding on standards and norms; while also keeping in mind the issues outlined in this article, including individual privacy, data protection and intellectual property. A global, independent watchdog organisation could be in charge of constantly verifying and purifying the generated data sets and checking the performed analyses.

The end result? A digital ecosystem that thrives, is openly accessible and contributed to by many. That allows for quick, accurate analyses and insights. That sets about a revolution: which companies and communities are doing well and leading the way to a better future; and which are seemingly undermining any progress, irreversibly harming our planet and undermining our actions in doing so? 

This can turn the tide for global warming and other environmental issues. Accountability is a powerful tool. Let’s use it to our benefit.

https://www.whatsorb.com/category/community

Digital Ecosystem For The Environment: Big Data Worldwide

Big Data is a term reserved for technological advances in IT-related industries. This claim is often heard when discussing the topic of massive heaps of data collected from all kind of devices and sensors. Big Data is allegedly great in running algorithms and recognising patters, perhaps even predicting to some extent - but that is mostly beneficial to consumer- and financial industries. Right? Well, no. Completely wrong, in fact. Big Data is a player that should never be underestimated in any context. Regardless of whether you understand the benefits of collecting data that allows you to quickly act on it - the reality is that there are a whole lot of them. This also applies to the environment. Much can be said for incorporating Big Data in some kind of digital ecosystem, meant to advocate promising initiatives and analysing and predicting trends. Knowledge is key, and this is exactly what such a digital ecosystem would provide. Having environmental insights and patterns at your fingertips will make it that much easier to really act upon it - and hold others accountable if they are not. Global environment data Unfortunately, as nice as it sounds, we are still quite a way off from actually achieving something like this. This is often related to the very nature of our field: much of what we do and how we act is based on assumptions, anecdotal evidence, and largely incomplete data sets. If this is the basis for much of our financial investments and physical efforts, it is not hard to see why we are often hesitant to really push through. Yet it is important to be aware of how much there already could be for us to use. We could quite easily get access to a wealth of data on the global environment. Using the technologies, techniques and tools available for dealing with this data, we could quite easily ‘assimilate’ what we are looking for. Using those valuable insights and patterns, we can find ourselves equipped with a powerful means of creating a sustainable future and actually changing the way that we interact with our planet. Environmental history Using data, we can make informed decisions. This goes for everything that we do in our lives. When we are buying a new TV, we will browse the internet for user reviews and product videos. Through our phones, we can check the weather forecast in the morning to decide what to wear. For the environment, you will find that data has much of the same analysing and forecasting power.   The one problem? We are increasingly finding that a significant portion of the information that would be required for making such an informed decision is not readily available. For now, we are mostly piecing together snippets and tidbits of information, collected using vastly different methods and time periods - making them inherently flawed for actual use. As such, we have no steady basis that we can base our decisions on, effectively erasing the ‘informed’ from informed decision. Recent reports from the UN are alarming. They showed that out of the 93 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a staggering 64 cannot yet be measured using reliable and meaningful indicators showing its progress. This is the result of a chronic lack of data, crippling our ability to get a good report card of how we are doing thus far. It should not be hard to see why this is worrying.   This is why it is so important to start looking at ways of incorporating Big Data and related technologies in all that we do. The possibilities for monitoring the environment are endless, ranging from the use of satellites and drones to cloud computing, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, blockchain and a plethora of (mobile) apps. Through all of these technologies, we can measure and protect our environment much more efficiently than ever before. Another hard truth is that none of the efforts taken thus far to reduce our strain on the world around us has actually worked. Especially now that the click is ticking - scientists have estimated that we only have about 10 years left to radically alter our ways -, it seems like an obvious solution that will, if invested in properly, pay off near-instantly.   Granted, ten years is not a lot of time; especially considering that a bunch of different systems will have to be aligned in order to be able to take definitive action. Our social, political and economic systems must work together with the technology to be able to drastically change our ways. This might seem daunting, but it is something that has to be done.   We largely created this mess and we will leave it to our children and grandchildren if we do nothing. There really is no alternative: we’ve got to get our act together, preferably today rather than tomorrow. Creating a digital ecosystem for the environment will definitely help us in getting things done. Connecting environmental governance with public-private partnerships through big data, groundbreaking technologies and analytics will allow us to foster expert communities - and ultimately receive much better environmental insights. Global digital ecosystem for the environment A few months ago, a group of companies, academics, UN member states, intergovernmental organisations and civil society actors came together to discuss how to move forward with Big Data, Analytics and Artificial Intelligence. Their main task was to envision some kind of global digital ecosystem for the environment. What would it look like, what partnerships would it benefit from? What are the benefits and potential pitfalls? Who is accountable and how to ensure that everyone cooperates to keep it as transparant as possible? Those and many other questions were answered in the first discussion paper of this working group, that was issued in March 2019. The writers were enthusiastic and passionate about the prospect of a fully digital ecosystem, although they recognised that, if it is to become a global standard by 2020, it requires a great deal of action, leadership and trust.   Below, I will highlight a number of particularly interesting elements that, according to this paper, should be considered before working on digital ecosystem harnessing Big Data of the environment. Artificial intelligence , big data and algorithms we need First of all, we must get a better grip on the problems we are dealing with. This can only be done by measuring them properly. Through Big Data and related technologies, we can be better informed and set ourselves up to be able to properly track and assess environmental trends and innovations. In the past, the limited availability of such data left a big gaping hole in the development and modelling of environmental policy options - something that can now be remedied. After making an inventory of what data is already readily available, we will quickly find out what information is missing - and how we can go about generating this. Big Data and algorithms, generated and run using modern technologies, will most likely help us doing so - especially if data is clearly, uniformly and articulately collected by companies and governments alike.   This kind of data can include information generated by open data cubes, providing spatial data on climate change parameters; which will help us to determine areas for growth and improvement on initiatives. This will make it easier to guarantee funding and investments for all kind of innovations. Additionally, more data and insights regarding supply chains and raw resource usage will allow investors to recognise opportunities and dangers ahead of time, getting them more involved in sustainability practices and highlighting polluting and/or damaging activities . Blockchain, for instance, is slated to be a major help in this, as it allows for the creation of a transparant, traceable database showing all the steps or resources used.   Finally, through the use of artificial intelligence, big data and all kinds of machine learning algorithms, consumers can be encouraged to think more about the environmental footprints of products they are considering. By tracing the supply chain and consumption patterns, it will be possible to find a way of changing consumer behaviour and, using gamification, reward programs and apps, encourage consumers to up their sustainability efforts. People and companies Another powerful element of a digital ecosystem is the actual people and companies that are making use of it. Social media in particular hugely influences the way that we interact with the world around us. It shapes our attitudes, perceptions, and invariably determines our actions. The recent commotion surrounding election influencing through social media should be enough to highlight how impactful this could potentially be. However, while many people are looking at the dangers of this, it can be flipped around and used to our benefit as well - such as the mobilising of people, encouraging them to not only let their voices be heard in a meaningful manner, but also actively recruiting them to collect data on our ecosystem, global warming, biodiversity and other sustainability matters. Crowdsourcing and citizen science have never been more relevant than today. Even the simple act of making people and companies aware of the issues and pointing out the impact it will have on their own lives will make a difference. Understanding the implications of the problems the world is facing today will help them to take action locally. Perhaps a minor change, but if those are added up, it can become a massive movement.   Getting people aware of the problem, foregoing any ‘fake news’ probability but focussing on the matter at hand in an objective, scientific manner will get them on board and set in motion a sequence of micro-actions that can turn into something great. Markets can be influenced, just like consumer behaviour and actions - but only if they have access to the digital ecosystem that points the way forward. Making environmental data a global public good will make it easily accessible, open and available for analysis. Satellites, drones, sensors and mobile applications. What are the risks? Some of the ways in which we can generate the environmental data mentioned include satellites, drones, sensors and mobile apps that continuously measure a certain object, area of phenomenon. Therefore, those who are in control of those kinds of technologies, will find themselves a willing target for governments and international organisations hoping to get better insights. The tech companies that are now holding those cards will find themselves faced with an interesting dilemma. Historically, they have been developing and acting upon their valuable data in a private manner, using it to outwit competition and make bigger profits. Their motivation is therefore largely based on the creation of profitable business models. The ultimate idea, as proven by companies as Google, Apple and Microsoft, is to find a way of locking in customers - making sure that they only benefit if they exclusively use their (affiliated) products and services. As a result, much of the data and proprietary know-how available regarding digital infrastructures and cutting-edge data generating technologies is held close to the chest. They alone have access to the majority of this data, shifting decision-making power to a handful instead of the many. Often, valuable data is sold to another lucky few instead of shared with a larger group. An issue that has inevitably come up in this regard is that of privacy.   After all, who owns the data? The party that collected it? The party that paid handsomely to receive it? Or the party who finds himself the subject of the data? If the plan is to release an armada of satellites, drones and sensors on our planet, the issue of data governance is bound to come up. How to respect the privacy of people and private companies, while still getting meaningful intel? As cliched as it may sound, information is power - and people are understandably afraid of anything or anyone that yields great power. As no single party can or will be able to be ‘in charge’ of this data, it will likely be a scattered field of tech companies, parts manufacturers, digital gurus, infrastructure experts, scientists, governments, private persons and environmental groups. Which is great - what we need is the combined effort of all those stakeholders in order to move forward and create this global digital ecosystem where environmental data is available at a moment’s notice. Yet this makes the issue of who is in control more pressing. In an ideal world, data in this digital ecosystem would be a public good. Yet in practice, there will be some pitfalls regarding individual privacy, intellectual property, data security, data quality assurance, transparency and purposely fake or malicious data entries. A watchdog will have to be appointed, while countries around the world will have to agree on certain guidelines and restrictions - these two preventive measures will be critical in validating and running this massive undertaking. Harness the power of data, AI and mobile apps. How do we get there? The basic idea is simple. If we can harness the power of Big Data, AI and mobile apps in a responsible and sensitive manner, we will find ourselves in a position where we are able to clearly see what is happening and therefore hold governments and institutions accountable. We will finally be able to track our progress on a large number of environmental indicators that have previously gone untracked. Simultaneously, we can analyse the trends and insights to make even more meaningful changes in the ‘way we do’, the ‘way we are’, and the ‘way we should be’. Now that most of the technologies are widely available, this is the time to take action. We must move ahead of the game and look at the ten-year-deadline given to us as a challenge instead of a threat. Through the power of data, we can influence consumers on a microlevel, changing their own behaviour, awareness and actions when it comes to global warming and other pressing environmental issues. We can challenge long-held beliefs and, through millions of micro-actions and micro-changes, bring about significant change.   Companies and governments can be held accountable for what they are (not) doing, while alternatives and solutions can be analysed and optimised to ensure we keep on making the right choices, every time we find ourselves at another crossroad. We can do so by making data sets as open as possible and involving companies, encouraging them to share their expertise, infrastructure and technologies on data science, cloud computing and artificial intelligence.   Environmental data as a public good should be the norm, not the exception. Data that should be streamlined for transparency, accuracy, quality and comparability. Governments play an instrumental role in setting forth guidelines and deciding on standards and norms; while also keeping in mind the issues outlined in this article, including individual privacy, data protection and intellectual property. A global, independent watchdog organisation could be in charge of constantly verifying and purifying the generated data sets and checking the performed analyses. The end result? A digital ecosystem that thrives, is openly accessible and contributed to by many. That allows for quick, accurate analyses and insights. That sets about a revolution: which companies and communities are doing well and leading the way to a better future; and which are seemingly undermining any progress, irreversibly harming our planet and undermining our actions in doing so?   This can turn the tide for global warming and other environmental issues. Accountability is a powerful tool. Let’s use it to our benefit. https://www.whatsorb.com/category/community
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