Solving Humanity With Data Science

Part 01 – The beginning

a perfect world

In the book, A Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin says “Summer will end soon enough, and childhood as well”. The quote has an impending truth to it, almost as if he is warning us of a dark end to humanity itself. Since the beginning of time, man has faced adversity in myriad forms, from the whimsical destructions of nature to the test of time itself. The most potent enemy that man has had, however, is himself. Civilization has helped us grow out of the wild hunters that we were, into a species who are capable of designing complex systems like money, transportation, politics and even send ourselves to outer space. We as a species have explored and exploited our world, created cities with remarkable architectures and invented concepts overtime that would have baffled our ancestors. Why is George R.R. Martin then, warning us of an imminent and dark danger? Why can’t we, humans, who are capable of anything, create a perfect world to live in, a utopia? The truth is, we can’t, because we’re a troubled species and a very profane enemy lurks in our system; as the proverb “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link” elegantly summarizes.

The society that we’ve evolved into today has some serious social flaws, including Gender bias, Poverty, Crime, Resource scarcity and I could go on. On December 16, 2012, a heinous act by a few individuals in abusing and causing a girl’s death saw a nation protest in unison. These crimes are the weak links that scar our society, tumours that terrify the innocent, and incidents that make humanity very far away from creating a perfect world. Barely two years since, on July 02, 2014, a six year old child was abused in a school, an innocent childhood that probably ended too soon. Society is ridden with such problems, problems that bring us down every time we showcase our achievements, problems that ridicule our very being. These problems though, aren’t new, they have a very human element to them – Anger, Greed, Lust, and the like. In some sense, religion has an answer to these weaknesses of mankind. At Gramener, Science is our religion, and we introspect today, if one of our greatest achievements (Science) can create a perfect world.

Science is a methodical system, it’s a study of nature’s behaviour and can be quantified by numbers. Science helps us create models with the help of numbers and equations to represent and answer some of the most complex questions that we have ever faced in our history. We have to use this, our greatest strength, to try and solve the issues that are inhibiting us from evolving into a higher, and more civilized species. The numbers that I talk about, the numbers which can quantify situations and systems, is nothing but data. There is data, hidden everywhere, in our world today. Data about people, data about weather, data about transactions, data about what people are thinking on online media, data everywhere. This burst of data has been a natural evolution of the Internet, one of mankind’s greatest achievements. Can these numbers that are everywhere, help us look at a story that is hidden from the naked eye? Can these numbers help us identify patterns of human failures? Can we scientifically provide a solution that can solve humanity?

Indian Elections 2014 – Big Data for Billion People!

Indiaspora a forum for Indian American leaders published  an article by Ramachandran (Ram) J., CEO Gramener about how Gramener took up the task of analyzing large volumes of data into meaningful information for the general public to consume easily. 

An excerpt:

What comes to our minds as Indian diaspora when we think about Indian Elections? Humungous rallies, colorful campaigning, myriad party symbols and boisterous victory laps.
The Indian General Elections also have another perspective which often does not figure in our most buoyant thoughts.

- 300 parties, 8000 candidates, 800 Million voters, 1 Million booths served/secured by ~20 Million officials. The heady mix is further embellished with variety of structured & unstructured information – candidate histories, crime records, declared assets and audacious election manifestos. Mixed with the above is the frenetic activity on the day of results. Live streaming of results: ~21000 votes to be counted per second, from all corner of the country spanning an area of ~1 million square miles.

Thus, elections in India is a classic BIG DATA problem and the 2014 general elections was the biggest of them all.While technology may be able to process this humongous data, how can all this information be consumed and understood by a billion people? That too, in real time as it happens?

With plans in place and trial runs completed, the visualization dashboard went live on the morning of 16th May – the counting day. – will Gramener technology stand the ultimate performance test on this D-Day?

Answer came in the first hour – the visualization dashboard had over a million hits in an hour. Grew to a total of 10 million hits in a span of 12 hours! Social media exploded with humongous response to these live visualizations! Common people started consuming and sharing deeper insights real time! The various mass media channels lapped up the insights and reported them across the county. A new era in Indian election reporting was born! (http://ibn.gramener.com/live).

Read full article at http://indiaspora.org/blog/indian-elections-2014-big-data-for-billion-people/

Lessons from FIFA

Some of us watched the recently concluded FIFA World cup during ungodly hours with dreary eyes. Some of you might have wondered on the definition this kind of fun – a bunch of guys run after one ball whereas everyone could have been given one  each. 

Whichever camp you belong to, there is a lot one can learn from these past 4 weeks of soccer action:

Philipp Lahm

Phillipp Lahm, the German captain summarized the victory rather well with a one liner paraphrased here “others have marquee players, we have a team.” If you ponder over this line from him, it is evident that despite huge differences in individual abilities, each member of the team has a role to play. If you build your strategy too much around 1 player, you still may not get close to your goal (well, pun intended). If you do not believe this,  ask Argentina, Portugal, Brazil and so on… (Teams need to identify and strengthen on the collective team’s capabilities.) 

Brazil team

You can be in love with what you do, but not to a point of exclusion of some realities. Passion is a key ingredient, but too much of this could break your back. Ask Brazil, it will be a while before they can keep their  back straight, sadly, too literally for their main player. It is OK to build a stadium by spending your tax payer’s money hoping that your team will play there (and become champions), but not without giving allowance for undesirable outcomes. Run with passion, but hold on to a grain of truth to guide you. (Keep our head balanced and eyes straight on tasks, but do make allowance for realities too) 

USA Portugal goal

It is not over, till it is over. USA was all ready for an upset of Portugal, but for a goal from Portugal in the 91st minute (yes, in the dying seconds of the game). USA supporters may have started to revel on the spoils of this victory, when they were shut out with this goal. (No work is compete till all possible exposures are plugged) 

Costa Rica team

Size or skill may not matter much without self belief. Minnows of Group D (Costa Rica) topped their group. They also extinguished the Greek flame and almost send Netherlands packing. Their  display of soccer was not just reputation in motion, but ambition and skill on a bed rock of courage. You can be God in your chosen profession, but without courage you cannot seize the day. See England, Uruguay and Italy – they were out of sorts with Costa Rica – a nation who does not even have an army! (Courage the virtue on which all other virtues are mounted)

Germany goal

Finally, knowing data helps. Germans studied themselves and the competition closely – they improved their ball handling time from 3.4 secs to 1.1 secs. Imagine  the power of this, each member of the team knows that they need to speed up. Everyone speeds up a bit, the entire team speeds up hugely. (A small act of efficiency by each team member goes a long way for the team).

We could go on with more examples. Key point being it was not just a soccer tournament, but an epitome of strategy and execution. Lot can be learnt from this.