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10 Bits: The Data News Hotlist

by Joshua New
Picasso's "Guernica"

This week’s list of data news highlights covers September 5-11, 2015 and includes articles about the NFL adopting the Internet of Things and how researchers can predict the spread of dengue fever with cell phone data.

1. China Gets on Board with Open Data

China’s State Council has issued guidelines to develop a platform to share government data with the public in an effort to improve governance and spur innovation. China will first develop a platform to facilitate intergovernmental data sharing by the end of 2017, and it will roll out a platform for public data sharing by the end of 2018. The State Council’s guidelines stipulate that the public portal will provide citizens access to data on topics such as public health, education, agriculture, weather, and finance.

2. Playing Football with the Internet of Things

The National Football League (NFL) has installed radio frequency identification (RFID) chips in the shoulder pads of every player to collect data on players such as location on the field, speed, acceleration, and distance traveled during a game. Each NFL stadium is now equipped with 20 receivers to record this data, which the NFL plans to feed into apps for fans, as well as provide to broadcasters and coaching staff.

3. Visualizing Human Activity Around the World

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Ericsson, a telecommunications manufacturing company, have created a publicly accessible website called ManyCities that visualizes human activities in major cities around the world based on mobile phone data. The anonymized data reveals cell phone usage patterns on a local scale and can indicate major trends in human activity, such as how holidays or major events like the Wimbledon tennis championship influence cell phone usage and how cell phone activity differs between commercial and residential areas.

4. Fighting Sexual Harassment on Public Transportation

The World Bank and Corevsa, a private bus line in Mexico City, are piloting a smartphone app called Hazme el Paro, slang for “watch my back,” to combat the high prevalence of sexual harassment towards women that occurs on public transit in the city. The app provides information on what abuse looks like, ranging from unwanted stares to physical contact, and allows users to report it. When riders report an incident, Internet-connected speakers on the bus play a message designed to deter the harassment. The Work Bank hopes to launch the app, which is part of a larger campaign to reduce sexual harassment on Mexico City’s busses, later this month.  

5. Understanding Student Debt

Researchers from the Treasury Department and Stanford University have analyzed a new database of student borrowing, including information on who takes out loans, the colleges borrowers attend, and students’ default rates, to reveal new insights into the rising levels of student debt. The analysis shows that for-profit colleges are much more responsible for the large increases in student loans and loan defaults in the past decade than expensive private colleges. The analysis provides policymakers with better information about student borrowing patterns, which have not traditionally been well understood.

6. Tracking the Spread of State Legislation

A team of data scientists working as Data Science for Social Good fellows at the University of Chicago have developed a tool to track how state legislation can quickly propagate throughout multiple states. The tool uses a modified version of an algorithm originally designed to match genetic data and help translate languages to analyze the text of state legislation and identify when the language is similar to laws in other states, which could suggest the involvement of special interest groups promoting their agenda to multiple state governments. The team hopes the tool can help the public better scrutinize the influence of interest groups as well as help state legislators identify laws effective in other states that they could adapt for their own purposes.

7. Teaching Computers to Paint like Picasso

Researchers at the University of Tubingen in Germany have developed software that uses an artificial neural network—a type of machine learning algorithm—to learn and mimic painting styles of famous artists such as Picasso and Van Gogh. The system can identify artistic characteristics unique to a particular artist, such as brushstrokes and use of color, and then recreate a photograph of a real world environment in the style of that artist. The researchers developed the system to further understanding on human creativity and how humans perceive art.

8. Making City Benches Smarter

A group of cities including Boston, Jersey City, and Austin have begun to pilot public benches equipped with solar panels that could help city officials make better urban planning decisions. The benches, made by Boston-based startup Soofa, currently allow pedestrians to charge their mobile devices, but city officials eventually plan to equip them with networked sensors to collect data on temperature, light and noise levels, foot traffic, and other information useful to city planners.

9. Putting Artificial Intelligence to the Test

Researchers at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, a research organization based in Seattle, have developed a computer program called Aristo designed to answer standardized testing questions aimed at fourth graders. Currently, Aristo can answer multiple choice questions from a fourth-grade science test that do not involve diagrams with 75 percent accuracy by using reasoning algorithms that analyze data from study guides and the Internet. The Allen Institute will host a challenge next month with data science company Kaggle for participants to attempt to train Aristo to answer questions at an eighth-grade level.

10. Tracking Dengue Fever with Cell Phone Data

A research collaboration between Norwegian telecommunications company Telenor Group, Harvard University, Oxford University, the University of Peshawar, and the Centers for Disease Control have developed a method to track and predict an outbreak of dengue fever. The researchers combined anonymized call records for 30 million Telenor subscribers in Pakistan during a dengue outbreak in 2013 with epidemiological data about dengue fever to generate highly granular maps showing the risk of outbreak. The call records proved useful to the researchers because it illustrated how people moved throughout the region during the outbreak, influencing the spread of the disease. The researchers home their models could help contain and respond to future outbreaks of dengue fever and other diseases.

Image: Picasso’s “Guernica” – flickr user tiganatoo

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