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10 Bits: The Data News Hotlist

by Daniel Castro

This week’s list of data news highlights covers April 25-May 1, 2015 and includes articles about using open data for humanitarian relief and a new algorithm that can guess an individual’s age from  his or her photograph.

1. Uganda Launches Database to Help Refugees

The Ugandan government has launched a database to improve how it tracks and responds to the nearly 500,000 refugees within its borders. The database, called the Refugee Information Management System, will incorporate a wide variety of data on refugees, including household information, relatives, property, and biological data, to facilitate better aid delivery, as well as to better protect against those posing as refugees to enter the country with malicious intent.

2. Using Data to Help Nepal Aid Workers

The United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has deployed a website known as HDX, short for the Humanitarian Data Exchange, to help provide key information to relief workers in Nepal. HDX creates a platform for international organizations to collaborate and share data. Initially used by aid workers to fight the Ebola pandemic in Africa, it now provides access to key information about the population, climate, terrain, and roads in Nepal.

3. Hearing Like a Human with Deep Learning

A team of researchers at the University of Surrey in the UK has devised a method of using deep learning, a type of machine learning, to differentiate and single out a human voice from a song. While humans can focus on a specific sound or voice despite the presence of background noise, a phenomenon known as the cocktail party effect, machines have been historically very bad at this task. 

4. Supporting Older Adults with Mobile Apps

IBM, Apple, and Japan Post, a provider of banking, insurance, and postal services, have announced a new partnership to improve quality of life for Japan’s older residents. The partnership will offer elderly customers iPads installed with apps that can manage and coordinate important tasks such as medical reminders, household maintenance, and transportation, and communicate this information to family caregivers. The goal of the program is to allow families to better monitor the well-being of their elderly relatives while make life easier for all parties.

5. 3D Body Scanning on the Cheap

A Manhattan-based startup called Body Labs wants to help people track their bodies’ subtle changes without spending the thousands of dollars traditionally required for 3D scanning. Body Labs is developing software to take advantage of the 3D cameras that will be increasingly common on smartphones, tablets, and other devices so users can create accurate scans of their body. Body Labs will also let users upload their scans into an online portal that helps analyze the changes. Body Labs expects these easy-to-produce scans will have a wide array of useful applications, including health tracking, animation, and fashion design. Body Labs’ technology is currently used by the U.S. Army to ensure that its uniforms have the best possible fit for the majority of soldiers. 

6. Machine Learning Can Guess Your Age

Microsoft has published a new site called “How Old Do I Look” to demonstrate the potential for its machine learning service Azure to spot trends and make predictions. Users can upload a photo to the site and Microsoft’s algorithms will identify the face in the image and estimate the age of the person pictured. Microsoft created the site to showcase the impact cloud computing has on machine learning applications—processes historically restricted to those who could afford the massive amounts of computing power required to process such large quantities of data. 

7. Protecting Borders with Cognitive Computing

Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection has partnered with IBM to use the cognitive computing platform Watson to better handle the overwhelming amount of data it receives. The department will use Watson to analyze large amounts of unstructured data, such as news feeds and government reports, to quickly identify connections between potential threats and better assess risks.

8. Creating Prescription Drug Cost Transparency

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released data on the $103 billion in prescription drugs that providers prescribed in 2013 as part of the Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Program. The dataset, containing drug cost information for 36 million patients and 1 million prescribers, will allow consumers, providers, researchers, and other stakeholders to better understand prescription drug utilization and spending.

9. Hacking for Better Government Data Tools

The General Services Administration (GSA) has announced the Digital Innovation and Strategy Hackathon to improve how the GSA and other agencies use data. The hackathon will have 100 members of the public competing to design new tools that can help federal agencies better collect data in a manner that improves transparency and efficiency. The hackathon will take place on May 8, 2015. 

10. Making Government More Data Savvy

Google has launched its Government Innovation Labs which will bring together private and public sector leaders to improve how governments approach hard problems. The program will challenge teams to use innovative thinking and tools, such as data visualization and open data solutions, to identify how they can get a better return on investment for new public projects in their jurisdictions. The ultimate goal of the project is to institutionalize innovative thinking and use of technology in government.

Image credit: Flickr user UK Department for International Development

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