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10 Bits: the Data News Hotlist

by Joshua New

This week’s list of data news highlights covers January 16-22, 2016 and includes articles about how the United States will use facial-recognition algorithms to enhance airport screening and a new algorithm that can make the U.S. Supreme Court more transparent.

1. Helping Sudan Become More Data-Driven

The World Bank has launched the Sudan Evidence Base and Data Literacy Capacity Development Programme to help the Sudanese government adopt a more data-driven approach to policymaking by improving national statistics programs and increasing analytical skills within the government. The initiative will also provide data literacy training for journalists, civil society groups, and academics to encourage them to analyze government data. The World Bank launched the program with approximately $3 million in funding from the United Kingdom’s overseas aid budget.

2. Using Fingerprints to Improve the Accuracy of Patient Data

Over 300 regional health-care systems in the United States are now working with CrossChx, an Ohio-based startup that has developed a method of using patients’ fingerprints to match their electronic health records across various providers. Finding all of a patient’s records can be challenging due to incompatible information technology systems used by different health systems. By using fingerprints to identify patient records, healthcare providers can quickly discover and correct errors in patient data, which CrossChx says it finds in 14 percent of health records.

3. Measuring City Performance with Open Data

After a successful two months of testing, the City of Boston has released its CityScore platform  which analyzes the city’s open data to provide a comprehensive view of city performance across all municipal services, ranging from trash collection to police activity. CityScore allows users to easily interpret open data about these services and compare it against performance benchmarks set by the city as well as average performance over time. For example, citizens can review how reliably the city fills potholes in roads and city administrators can assess which services are underperforming and take corrective action accordingly.

4. Turning London into a Smart City

The European Union’s (EU) Smart Cities and Communities Lighthouse initiative, an EU-wide smart city pilot program, has selected London to participate in the program, joining the ranks of Milan, Lisbon, Warsaw, Bordeaux, and Burgas. As part of the initiative, London will develop a series of demonstrator projects that take advantage of the Internet of Things, including smart parking systems, driverless cars, and digital energy supply and demand management systems. Additionally, London will contribute to the development of a common data sharing platform for participating cities to facilitate sharing best practices and other useful data to support additional smart city projects.

5. Using Travelers’ Faces to Improve Airport Screening

After a successful pilot program last year, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will begin deploying facial recognition technology to all airports that serve as points of entry to the United States. The system will use facial recognition algorithms to confirm the identity of travelers with electronic passports, which include a digital photograph of the owner’s face. CBP will deploy the technology incrementally, beginning with John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City this month, and the agency expects the technology will help its agents more effectively screen travelers and protect them from fraud and identity theft. CBP will not store any photographs of travelers that it analyzes unless it results in an enforcement or administrative action.

6. Covering Antarctica with Mobile Service for the Internet of Things

French company Sigfox has announced it will provide cellular network coverage for research stations in Antarctica to allow researchers deploy connected sensors that can collect and transmit scientific data. Sigfox will deploy its network first for the Princess Elisabeth Antarctica Research Station so researchers can use tracking devices to monitor each other’s locations and then expand its network to facilitate data exchange from connected scientific instruments monitoring the ice for climate change research. Eventually, Sigfox plans to deploy a similar system for fishermen in Indonesia to help them communicate with each other and alert others about potential problems while far out at sea.

7. Boosting Adoption and Usefulness of Electronic Health Records

The U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee has introduced a draft bill to increase the use of electronic health records (EHR) and ensure interoperability between EHR systems. Among its numerous provisions, the bill would create a universal rating system for health information technology (IT) products to help healthcare providers make more informed purchasing decisions. Additionally, the bill would grant the Department of Health and Human Services the ability to investigate and punish health IT providers that engage in data blocking—the practice of deliberately impeding the exchange of patient data.

8. Predicting the Actions of Supreme Court Justices

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed an algorithm capable of predicting which U.S. Supreme Court justices author what are known as per curiam decisions—decisions the court produces without signed authors that allow justices to make their decisions anonymously. The researchers, led by 2016 computer science graduate William Li, analyzed per curiam decisions, which make up about 10 percent of decisions, to identify particular traits that correspond to each justice’s writing styles, such as word choice or sentence structure. With this analysis, the researchers built an algorithm capable of correctly guessing the author of historical decisions with an 81 percent accuracy. By applying the algorithm to new decisions, Li hopes to introduce more transparency and accountability into Supreme Court decisions.

9. Tracking Agricultural Water Usage in the California Drought

California’s State Water Resources Control Board, which regulates the state’s water usage, has passed a new rule to require longtime water-rights holders—mostly in the agricultural industry—to monitor and report data about their water consumption to state officials to help inform strategies to mitigate the effects of the drought. For years this reporting requirement contained a provision that exempted these rights-holders from reporting this data if it was too financially burdensome to do so, however state officials estimate that 70 percent of these rights-holders have claimed this exemption. Now, these rights-holders—12,000 in all—are required to install metering technology that can monitor and report water use data to state regulators.

10. Predicting Dementia with Medical Records

Researchers at University College London have created an algorithm capable of predicting a patient’s risk of developing dementia based on data already in his or her medical records, without the need for additional testing. The algorithm analyzes known risk factors, such as whether or not patients smoke, have a history of depression, or have high blood pressure, and develops a score indicating how likely a patient will develop dementia. The researchers tested their algorithm on 265,000 patient records over five years and found its predictions had an extremely high degree of accuracy for patients from ages 60 to 79.

Image: Eli Duke

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