How big data will help manage a world of 7 billion people


By this time next week, the world will have 7 billion people in it, according to the United Nations, and by 2050, there are supposed to be 9 billion people in the world. This rapid population growth will fundamentally change the way populations use resources like energy, water and food, and corporations, governments and NGOs will increasingly turn to analytics, software and big data tools to manage how to deliver these resources to the populations that need them.

Here are eight ways big data and analytics are already helping manage resources for a booming population:

1. SAP’s Population Demographics. In time for the 7 billion mark next week, SAP and the United Nations Population Fund created interactive maps that show the demographics of both an aging and a youthful population of 7 billion people. It only takes 13 years to add another 1 billion more people to the planet, according to the report. You can check out world stats, like birth rates, deaths, percentage of population by age, as well as gender.

2. Space-Time Insight. A startup called Space-Time Insight creates software that merges real-time geospatial data with Google Maps, and sells the software to utilities and gas and oil companies to manage their resources in real time. California’s Independent System Operator Corporation (Cal ISO) — which manages 85 percent of the state’s power load — has installed an 80-foot by 6.5-foot screen in its control room to display real-time power-grid data from thousands of endpoints. Cal ISO used to get the data in four-second intervals, but given the growth in resources, population and data feeds, it now gets updates by the millisecond.

3. The Climate Corporation. Formerly called WeatherBill, the now renamed Climate Corporation uses big data tools to offer analytics and reports to the agriculture industry, and also sells a weather insurance product to farmers, to help protect them from losses from extreme weather events. The world has seen a rise in extreme weather events, partly do to a change in climate, and farmers can expect more of this unpredictability going forward. Combined with more unpredictable weather, food prices will likely rise as the population grows and usable land becomes constrained, particularly in developing countries.

4. Google Earth Engine. Google launched Google Earth Engine, a year ago at COP 16, and the product combines an open API; a computing platform; and 25 years of satellite imagery available to researchers, scientists, organizations and government agencies. Google Earth Engine is interesting because it offers both tools and parallel processing computing power to groups to be able to use satellite imagery to analyze environmental conditions in order to make sustainability decisions. For example, the government of Mexico created the first comprehensive, high-resolution map of Mexico’s forests, using Google Earth Engine, incorporating 53,000 Landsat images, to produce a 6-gigabyte product. The Mexican government and NGOs can now use the map to make decisions about land use, sustainable agriculture, and species protection in combination with a growing population.

5. Google Oceans. Climate change and population growth will also affect how the world protects, uses and manages the oceans. In Google’s 5.0 version of its Google Earth tool, it included detailed ocean data (the ability for the user to dive beneath the surface) and “historical imagery” that features a time slider of satellite data for a location over time. (Below, Jimmy Buffet looking up at Google Oceans).

6. Building energy management. As more and more buildings are built to accommodate the growing population, the energy consumption of those buildings will need to be managed. A startup called FirstFuel Software use analytics and a set of data to remotely determine energy information about a commercial building, like consumption habits, and give recommendations for how to make the building run more energy efficiently. The company says it uses no on-site hardware or onsite energy audits, to get this data and yet says its information is as accurate as information received through an on-site energy audit, which is far more costly. The data sets needed to produce an accurate set of energy information includes, utility-based electric and gas data for a year, the location’s weather and climate data, as well as GIS mapped building data.

7. Curbing home energy. Other companies like Opower are focused on using analytics and behavioral tools to get consumers to change their energy consumption habits in homes. Opower recently announced plans to launch a Facebook application it says could one day be the world’s largest social network around energy.

8. Mobile phone data from settlements: A group of Harvard researchers is looking to use cell phone data combined with mathematical models and statistics, to better understand the needs of the 1 billion people who live in informal housing, called settlements or slums in developing countries. Other researchers in the group are looking to use big data to predict food shortages in developing countries and crime sprees due to causal events, like climate change.

Image courtesy of Smagdali.


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