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The Big Data Revolution: Transforming Raw-Data into Future Insights

09 February 2015


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Data is not enough; insight is crucial, says Dr. Rosling

Statistics show that the world is rapidly changing but big data needs to be supported by insight before populations can make sense of it, said Dr. Hans Rosling, Professor of International Health at Karolinska Institute and chairman and co-founder of Gapminder Foundation.

In his address titled ‘The Big Data Revolution: Transforming Raw Data into Future Insights’ Dr. Rosling used bubble graphs, dolls and tissue boxes to make relevant population data come alive for the audience. As dots and circles moved across the graph, he demonstrated that the UAE is now at the same level as the US when it comes to reduced infant mortality, despite having started at a much higher level.

Using population date projections from the UN Population Division, he said: “By the end of this century, the old concept of the western world will have less than 10% of the world’s population. And 80% of the world’s population will be living in Asia and Africa,” comparing it to his childhood about half a century ago when one-third of the world’s population lived in the western world.

Driving the message home, Dr. Rosling said: “It’s amazing how well we know what will happen with people. The problem is to get it into heads. We can provide data but how do we convert it into insight – that Europe and the US will be less and less part of the world?”

With population growth centered in Asia and Africa, Dr. Rosling said, “the city that is positioned between Africa and Asia will be the center of the world.”

Using the example of population studies, he spoke of insights that can help in making decisions. “To gain insight it is not enough to give numbers. You have to give explanations as well. People have to understand the mechanisms of change. Descriptive data is what is needed. This country is different from others in the region. To draw conclusions about why things happen, sometimes you need to have demographic and social research within the government. Not just to publish papers and make academic careers but to make an analysis based on realities. This is crucial to understanding the new emerging causal links and the new values,” Dr. Rosling said. 

Speaking of the UAE’s rapidly evolving economy, he said that while data is crucial in decision-making, a wise government needs more than that. “If you are dealing with data in the government, and when things are changing, you need to convert data into insights. It has to be precise for the needs that you need to explain.”