Connecting the dots: how data science can create positive, large-scale impact

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Technology can push innovation, but it can only create true progress when utilized for the greater good. This was one of the important points driven across during Future Forward: The Future of Data, a fireside chat organized by Asia Society last Sept. 25 at Common Ground, Rockwell.

Stephanie Sy, founder and CEO of data science consultancy firm Thinking Machines, was the main speaker for the session. Through data transformation and geospatial analytics, they’re able to unlock large scale, high-impact solutions.

For instance, they developed an open-source machine learning model to map poverty in the Philippines. Surveys are only conducted every 3 to 5 years, leaving the government and NGOs with scarce and outdated data. But with this technology, institutions are able to get fairly accurate data at a lower cost.   

They’ve also created solutions for other industries such as media and insurance.  

“It’s a lot of work,” said Sy. “I think that we are in a very challenging time of humanity’s life cycle as a whole species. Trying to do everything alone is demoralizing.”

“But if you can develop a team… then it becomes kind of easier to push into the work, enjoy it as you’re working hard together with a bunch of other amazing people, and take one step at a time to help make the world slightly less worse.”    

Collaboration and innovation

This need for collaboration is highly emphasized by Asia 21, a network of young leaders across the Asia-Pacific. Stephanie Sy is a newly inducted member of Asia 21, making her the only Filipino in its class of 2019, which includes Shahab Shabibi and Zen Cho.

“The reason I wanted to join Asia 21 is that I see so many of the problems in the next 20 to 40 years as problems that will require international cooperation,” she said. “And that’s where I hope that Asia 21 can help us create more bridges, so that we can make better decisions together and then learn from each other.”

Sy also hopes that more leaders will be courageous in exploring untapped possibilities.

“As we tackle new problems, we need to know when and how to innovate, starting with ourselves. What is our approach to life? How can we always be experimenting and pushing the boundaries? [It’s also important to embrace] being wrong, because that’s the spirit of innovation.”