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The Empathy Machine: Are Digital Technologies the Best Bet in Telling about your Cause?

The panel discussion “The empathy machine: are digital technologies the best bet in telling about your cause?” took place on the opening day of the 2018 Fundamental Rights Forum (FRA). This forum was organized by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, and took place at the METAStadt Vienna 25-27 September 2018.

In this panel discussion Kadri Kõusaar (a Oscar nominated film director), Fanny Hidvegi (European Policy Manager) and me discussed if digital technologies really are the “empathy machine” and how innovative applications can help human rights defenders to achieve some challenging goals such as a change in public attitudes or meeting tough fund-raising targets. The panel discussion was moderated by the virtual reality artist Dr. Frederick Baker.

In this blog post I want to share some of the panel’s questions, which I answered:

1. How do algorithms interfere with human rights?

When algorithms make certain decisions, these algorithms  tent to mirror what they are shown with training sets. This is especially apparent for issues such as bias and machine discrimination. Both might be the result of the content of the training data, which reflects existing inequalities.

2. So, it’s about the data? What else makes data so important today?

The effective use of data is vital for our understanding of fundamental issues, such as human rights violations and political instability, for informing our policy-making, and for enhancing our ability to predict the next crisis. Furthermore, the scope, complexity and life-changing importance of the work being done on topics like these across the European Union has made it more important than ever for everyone participating in the public conversation and in demographic decision-making to have access to and to be able to derive insights from key data sources.

3. Where is data coming from and how can people benefit?

Every time we google something, send a tweet, or just browse a website, we create data. With the rise of visual analytics we can benefit from this vast amount of information. Visual analytics is a hands-on approach to interacting with data that does not require any programming skills. Furthermore, communicating with data, is seen as one of the most relevant skills in today’s information age.

Global Refugee Crisis visualization on Tableau Public

4. What is the easiest way to find interesting data?

I would check out the Google’s new search engine for datasets that was just released recently! Tableau Public is a good source for existings visualizations. Many of these are based on public data.

5. What is required to enable organizations to use data for good?

Data can be used for the good of society, but private- and public-sector firms, nonprofits and NGOs still lack analytics resources and expertise. Data and analytics leaders must cross traditional boundaries to use data for good, to better compete for limited talent, and to foster an ethical culture. VizForSocialGood and Tableau Foundation are good examples.

6. How can the private sector contribute for good?

Some private sector organizations are making data open and available to researchers, nonprofits and NGOs. Examples include:

  • Mastercard anonymizing credit card data to be analyzed in smart city initiatives.
  • Google making search data available to hospitals to predict infection disease outbreaks such as flu and dengue fever.
  • Insurance companies providing anonymized healthcare data to improve patient outcomes and prevention strategies.
  • Yelp providing ratings data to cities to prioritize food safety inspectors.

The panel discussion was followed by workshops in the afternoon: