Five Conjectures to Explore in 2023 as They Relate to Data for Good

Essay by Hannah Chafetz, Uma Kalkar, Marine Ragnet, Stefaan Verhulst: “From the regulations proposed in the European Artificial Intelligence (AI) Act to the launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT tool, 2022 was a year that saw many policy and technological developments. Taking stock of recent data and technology trends, we offer some conjectures as to how these ideas may play out over the next year. Indeed, predictions can be dangerous, which is why we position the below as conjectures — propositions that remain tentative till more evidence emerges — that can help advance the agenda and direction of responsible use of data for the public good focus areas.

Below, we provide a summary of the five conjectures that The GovLab will track and revisit throughout 2023.

Conjecture 1. In 2023 … non-traditional data may be used with increasing frequency to solve public problems.

Complex crises, from COVID-19 to climate change, demonstrate a need for information about a variety of developments quickly and at scale. Traditional sources are not enough: growing awareness and (re)use of non-traditional data sources (NTD) to fill the gaps in traditional data cast a spotlight on the value of using and combining new data sources for problem-solving. Over the next year, NTD sources could increasingly be called upon by decision-making to address large-scale public problems.

NTD refers to data that is “digitally captured (for example, mobile phone records and financial data), mediated (for example, social media and online data), or observed (for example, satellite imagery),” using new instrumentation mechanisms and is often privately held. Our recent report discussed how COVID-19 was a “watershed moment” in terms of generating access to non-traditional health, mobility, economic, and sentiment data. As detailed in the report, decision-makers around the world increasingly recognize the potential of NTD sources when combined with traditional data responsibly. Similarly, developments in the war in Ukraine presented a pivotal moment regarding the use of NTD sources. For instance, satellite images, social media narrative trends, and real-time location mapping have supported humanitarian action and peacebuilding.

These are just two examples of the increasing interest in NTD to solve public problems. We predict that this trend could continue to expand as technological advances continue to make non-traditional data more widely available to decision-makers. Already, the financial sector is increasingly incorporating non-traditional data to inform decisions such as assessing lending risks, for example. Recently, the fintech business Nova Credit and HSBC partnered together to exploit cross-border data to allow immigrants access to credit by predicting creditworthiness via digital footprint and psychometric data. This trend is compounded by increased legislation aiming to open up the re-use of private sector data, particularly in Europe. The increased attention to NTD sources signals a need to prioritize the alignment of the supply and demand of NTD and develop a systematized approach to how it can be integrated within decision-making cycles…(More)”.