In the presentation I embedded below, Robert Kirkpatrick from the UN’s Global Pulse team is talking about how United Nations agencies would like to use big data to search for crises in real-time. It’s a fascinating talk and Kirkpatrick shows how his team has been using data mining techniques to monitor bread prices in Latin America and rice prices in Indonesia.
Data highlights changes in behaviour
Equally interesting is what he would like to do in the future: for example get information showing the streams of money being sent via mobile banking in developing countries. If the UN could see changes in behaviour, he argues, then they might be able to spot issues that are in the process of developing.
If, for example, people in a certain region stop saving money to their mobile bank accounts and if at the same time there is a significant increase in money being sent from the capital to that region (presumably by relatives), then this could indicate that there is cash-flow in that region problem which might warrant additional investigation.
It’s an interesting idea, though clearly fraught with all kinds of legal and technical difficulties.