Celebrating data-driven innovation in Brussels

Sylwia Giepmans-Stepien is a Public Policy and Government Relations Analyst for Google in Brussels.

We now create as much information every two days as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003. And this rich flow is destined to accelerate. McKinsey projects 40% growth annually in global data generated. To showcase the potential of data for Europe’s economy and society, we recently teamed up with the European Innovation and Technology Foundation, the Bavarian Representation to the European Union and Euronews.

The forum, Data-Driven Innovation: The New Imperative for Growth, debated how data can improve the delivery of public services, provide accurate healthcare diagnosis, and generate higher business productivity. Androulla Vassiliou, European commissioner for education, culture and multilingualism, and Neelie Kroes, European commissioner in charge of the digital agenda, both called for unleashing a Big Data revolution in Europe. “This is the new frontier of the information age,” Vassiliou said. “In the current path to stimulate European growth and jobs, there has never been a more critical time to harness the potential of data.”

Androulla Vassilou
Alfred Spector

Senior representatives of the education, research, policy and business communities presented compelling evidence of how data could address big societal challenges. Computer-powered DNA sequencing open the possibility of accelerating medical diagnoses. Online college courses could revolutionize education. Google’s own Vice President for Research Alfred Spector showed how we use data for products such as Google Translate.

Data also is powering entrepreneurs. New online business models make sense out of data include social media power startups such as news organiser Storify. Its founder Xavier Damman explained how established organisations and top politicians such as BBC, the White House or UK Prime Minister David Cameron use his company’s services to share knowledge from different online data sources, including Twitter, Google+, and traditional media websites.

The concluding panel looked at the ethical aspects of collecting, sharing and using data. Among other examples, they discussed how organizations such as DataKind are bringing together data scientists and NGOs to address social problems ranging from dirty water to urban sprawl. While speakers stressed that data-driven innovation is not based exclusively on data about people, they acknowledge, that all data regardless the source and type requires making tough ethical choices.

The Innovation Forum aims to inject data-driven innovation on the Brussels policy agenda. As well as focusing on privacy and data protection, we also need to encourage the unprecedented economic potential of data.

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Data on the changing role of libraries in the digital age

Derek Slater is a policy manager at Google.

Ten years ago, the U.S. Congress looked at Internet access in libraries as “no more than a technological extension of the book stack.” In fact, the Supreme Court cited this statement in the United States v. American Library Association decision, upholding government regulations requiring that, as a condition of funding for Internet access in the library, libraries must install content filtering software. The Court asserted that “A public library does not acquire Internet terminals in order … for Web publishers to express themselves.”

Ten years later, data suggests otherwise. A recent survey from the Pew Research Center shows that today Internet access plays a much bigger role in libraries. Over a quarter of Americans say they get Internet access at libraries, with “African-Americans and Hispanics are more likely than whites to access the internet at their local library, as are parents of minor children, those under age 50, those living in households earning less than $30,000, and those with at least some college experience.” What’s more, a Gates Foundation report finds that “people use library computers to perform both life-changing and routine tasks,” both in discovering information and as a means of expression. For example, over a half-million Americans used library computers to start a local club or nonprofit group.

What impact has Congress’ initial judgment and policy had as technology use has changed? It’s clear that all filtering tools are overbroad and block some lawful speech, but we’re not aware of any studies analyzing what the economic and social impact of filtering has been. As Congress and states look at how to support libraries in a time of shrinking government budgets, this empirical question is worth tackling.

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