Global Fishing Watch And The Power Of Data To Understand Our Natural World

A year and a half ago I wrote about the public debut of the Global Fishing Watch project as a showcase of what becomes possible when massive datasets are made accessible to the general public through easy-to-use interfaces that allow them to explore the planet they inhabit. At the time I noted how the project drove home the divide between the “glittering technological innovation of Silicon Valley and the technological dark ages of the development community” and what becomes possible when technologists and development organizations come together to apply incredible technology not for commercial gain, but rather to save the world itself. Continuing those efforts, last week Global Fishing Watch launched what it describes as the “the first ever dataset of global industrial fishing activities (all countries, all gears),” making the entire dataset freely accessible to seed new scientific, activist, governmental, journalistic and citizen understanding of the state of global fishing.

The Global Fishing Watch project stands as a powerful model for data-driven development work done right and hopefully, the rise of notable efforts like it will eventually catalyze the broader development community to emerge from the stone age of technology and more openly embrace the technological revolution. While it has a very long way to go, there are signs of hope for the development community as pockets of innovation begin to infuse the power of data-driven decision making and situational awareness into everything from disaster response to proactive planning to shaping legislative action.

Bringing technologists and development organizations together is not always that easy and the most creative solutions aren’t always to be found among the “usual suspects.” Open data and open challenges built upon them offer the potential for organizations to reach beyond the usual communities they interact with and identify innovative new approaches to the grand challenges of their fields. Just last month a collaboration of the World Bank, WeRobotics and OpenAerialMap launched a data challenge to apply deep learning to assess aerial imagery in the immediate aftermath of disasters to determine the impact to food producing trees and to road networks. By launching the effort as an open AI challenge, the goal is to reach the broader AI and open development communities at the forefront of creative and novel algorithmic approaches….(More)”.