Organizing a System of 10 Billion People

In this post, I will make some predictions on the nearer and farther end of the Quantified Self movement. Using McLuhan’s Tetrad, I will argue that Quantified Self will get huge incentives from enhancing healthcare, crowdsourcing science, and support a strong common ground, people will organize their life upon. Also, Quantified Self will weaken institutionalized medical care, and it might even obsolesce governmental surveillance by pushing moral control from institutions back to communities. By this, Quantified Self retrieves a form of communal life that could be called a bucolic, but also global village. Finally, Quantified Self, together with the web and social media, can become part of an adaptive, global operational system that make a population of 10 billion people sustainable.

Organizing a System of 10 Billion People

Quantified Self – this means tracking your life, analyzing the data, sharing intimate details, and changing behaviour. Self-tracking has become a huge thing recently. It is a complex built on three rather new technological pillars: wearable technology, hardware to measure your life, sensors that everyone can carry around, second ubiquitous mobile technology, thus the means to emit the data at once into the cloud, and finally social media everyone participates in and by which everyone is connected to everyone else.

The third column, social networks, has already laid the ground for people to accept, their lives becoming more transparent to others, to keep track on many things, like their friends and interconnections, their daily routine like food which they take images of and share, and also the special events, the highlights, that are in particular shared.

So, tracking your life and sharing it with others has become a rather common thing. Quantified Self now ads measured data to that. Be it your work-out, your running, cycling or other sports activities, be it dietary data, or be it data about chronically conditions, your blood pressure, your muscular tremor or even your mood.

Quantified Self already supports the lives of people suffering from bipolar distortion, from Parkinson disease, cardio-vasculary disorders and many other objectives that would usually demand a much higher attention from medical doctors than anybody can afford or would like to maintain because of its time consumption.

What does Quantified Self enhance?

From healthcare to selfcare

To keep people healthy, more self-determined even under chronic conditions, is a huge, immediate benefit of Quantified Self. By providing cheep analytics like test strips for all kinds of metabolic blood tests, easily ordered via Amazon, Quantified Self brings medical support to people living in regions without hospitals nearby or without standard public healthcare systems.

This benefit is strong. It alone will promote Quantified Self to a huge extent. When a society realizes how much efficiency is gained by citizens tracking their vital data, there will also be monetary incentives for doing it. This might start with getting tax breaks or deductibility, and go on with discounts on health or life insurances.

Crowdsourcing science

Quantified Self does not only support the self-trackers themselves. It is also collects data on many individuals. Self-tracking does not only include tracking health. People track their whereabouts, their financials, and – often without being aware of – all kinds of other data tracked by their smartphones automatically and continuously. Thus, Quantified Self is in fact a huge collection of different experiments on social behavior, mobility, health, life conditions – on a large scale. Some experiments are literally crowdsourcing the data collection to the self-trackers.

The benefit of having this data available is huge. Doctors‘ records are only showing a small portion of people’s life. Quantified Self can draw a much more complete picture. Huge advances in early diagnosing illnesses and finding cures for individuals will be possible.

A common ground

Sharing personal data via Quantified Self also works as an extension of sharing thoughts, opinions, and events via social networks. You connect with others by sharing your life, and particularly by exchanging with others, getting back from them what you gave before. Sharing creates bonds that wave the social fabric denser. We realize what is relevant to others, what is the matter with them, and we can show respect for their condition.

What does Quantified Self make obsolete?

Disrupting medical care

Bringing your own medical data to the doctor will certainly not only create joyful reactions. Self-tracking is the first step of becoming more independent from experts. Whenever people started to massively share things, two developments occurred: crowdsourcing became more and more efficient and effective, and the proprietary hubs decayed. We will see this happen. Most likely, it begins at the periphery. First, the classic practitioners will feel decreasing numbers of visitors. The small laboratories will see falling numbers in prescribed analyses. Maintaining a small medical shop will become less and less profitable.

People will also become more demanding. The passive that is the etymological root of patient will change into active, educated, knowing, and no longer taking the expert for granted. People will start to question the solidarity of health insurances. Why would they still pay for others who willingly and consciously bring their health at risk? Of course they would demand discounts, making risky behavior even more expensive. In the end, with most medical support at hand, provided by advanced self-tracking analytics and the crowd, people would not only have become autonomous, but also autarkic.

Surveillance becomes pointless

The spook business might get in trouble with Quantified Self, too. This sounds contradictory at first: didn’t the NSA turn Facebook, Google, and the whole web into a giant surveillance machine? Surveillance is characterized by entities watching many „objects“, which often are not even aware of being watched. This is what the prefix „sur“ means: from above. The end point of surveillance is the panoptikon as envisioned by Jeremy Benthem in the 18th century: a society confined within a circular prison that surrounds a central watchtower. Very few guards are needed to contain a panoptic prison.

With every step in life becoming tracked and stored, it will be increasingly difficult for authoritarian security forces to conduct their atrocities that keep people small. We already witness police violence all over the world, documented and published at once, via smartphone. Surveillance turns into souvaillance, watching back. Without the hierarchical gradient, surveillance as means of suppression becomes pointless. If it is just evidence for wrongdoing that is needed, people voluntarily will provide that with their own gadgets.

What does come back from the past through Quantified Self?

The Global Village

The all-seeing panoptic eye of governmental control will vanish. What comes instead is your neighbors being able to see into most of you and your life. Society will degrade to community. As people start to question insurances and ask to bring their own wellbehaving into calculation, people will also start to question anti-communal behavior as a whole. Instead of showing off with prestigious wealth, locking yourself behind gated communities, keeping „the 99%“ outside, provoking aspiration, people will start to pose as meaningful members of the community.

People will care. Everyone becomes their neighbors‘ keeper. Help is always near, as is judgement. This of course bears some serious problems: while some behavior in public is broadly accepted for men, the same might be taboo for women. Narrow communities are usually not too tolerant against those deviating from what is regarded as „normal“. We will have to fight unprecedented forms of ableism – the movie GATTACA might serve as a good illustration.

No longer being on your own means becoming embedded into a lively community with all its warmth and kindness, and at the same time, coming under the full power of moral control. Individual deviance might get strictly sanctioned. Although deeply liberal by empowering the personal self, the quantified society will enforce communal morale. A bucolic global village with communitarian moral control might not sound like fun. However, compared with authoritarian security regimes most of humanity has to live with nowadays, is far worse. Quantified Self guides people to act responsibly for themselves as well as for others. In the end, we might gain more freedom than we give up.

What does Quantified Self finally flip into?

Stabilizing the global society

Quantified Self as extended social media weaves a smooth tissue of social fabric between people on a global scale. The emergent communal control warrants sustainable behavior like no legal system ever could. By building a communitarian, voluntaristic moral society of all humanity, Quantified Self might be a step towards a global social operating system.

System theory (although I am not really fond of it, I must admit) gives a good explanation, why global movements like social media and Quantified Self have occurred just now and why both will not be temporary but will accompany us for a long time.

When the global population started exploding at the beginning of the 20th century, major disturbances took place even threatening the further existence of the whole system – mankind: the world wars, atomic warfare, destruction of the environment, climate crisis, and huge economic inequality, to name a few. However, systems tend to stabilize. I believe that the web, social media, open data, and Quantified Self may let the system regain stability under the changed condition of a population unmet in size and density.

The noo-sphere

With social media, we already feel permanently connected to our community. With self tracking, we will be aware of our peers even more seamlessly. First, we will be connected with others cognitively and emotionally, but with wearable technology this connection even turns physical. Also, we will become aware of all the data that surrounds us. Data will look like extra dimensions invisible for the unarmed eye, but meaningful and rich for our head-up displays and also getting directly knit into our lives by interacting with our health and wellbeing. We already experience the world getting augmented by the data-sphere. But this experience of specialness will vanish. Data will become integral with our sensory, biological self. And, as we get more and more connected, our feeling of being tied into one body will also fade, as we become data creatures, bodiless, angelized.

Note on McLuhan’s Tetrad
McLuhan’s Tetrad: a framework to foresee effects of changes of media and technology on culture and society in different dimensions.

Enhances
Health, Fitness, Science, Communication
Retrieves
Temperance, Communal Life, Caring, Bucolic Village, Moral Control
Quantified Self
Reverses into
Organizing a System of 10 Billion, Noo-Sphere, Angelization, Weltgeist
Obsolesces
General Practioners, The Psychiatrist’s Couch, Surveillance

Datarella People – Helge F. Gruetjen, Boat Racer & Physicist

Cambridge PhD student Helge Gruetjen was a chain-smoker, weighting 120 kilograms, who started to row for the Cambridge University Boat Club in 2010 to become one of a team of five trying to beat the Oxford squad.

He had set himself an „unrealistic goal“: to lose more than 25 kilograms while bulking up, simultaneously. In the last 2.5 years the 26-year-old managed to lose 0.5 kilograms per week, by stopping smoking, tracking his food intake, sleep patterns and more, using an Excel sheet, 4 hours of training per day…..and a lot of will power.

„I knew I had to become very fit within 2.5 years. And I had to lose weight in a very soft and sustainable way.“

But how to motivate oneself to constantly lose weight during 2.5. years? For Helge, to be part of the Cambridge boat race team, was the biggest motivating factor. First, he analyzed his own behavior: which aspects of his life are obstacles to that goal and had to be changed. These were: smoking, exercise behavior, eating behavior, sleep patterns, etc.

„We have to get up at 5:45am and start our day with the first round of training. Then I head to my office. Then, in the afternoon, the second part of the training follows. We spend 6 hours per day on preparation for and the training itself.“

From slugabed to earlybird, from a lover of sweets to quit sugar totally: combined with daily exercise these have been the changes for Helge to lose 500 grams per week, the equivalent of about 500 calories less per day. Not being aware of actual quantified self and wearable tech gadgets as wristbands, etc., Helge used a classic Excel sheet to collect his personal data day for day. Being a theoretical physicist, he naturally is more interested in data than in nicely drawn charts. But he really likes the Quantified Self and thinks that it can play an instrumental part for many people who want to change their lives.

Helge Gruetjen

 

„I had my lows – and it was quite hard. But having managed to stick to my own rules for a certain time, I have seen the results: my plan really seems to work. Seeing the results and knowing that your plan is working gives you the willpower to move on, to reach the next level. An then I realized, that I did not really miss something after I had changed my lifestyle. After all, it’s a fun thing to do!“

Helge has been supported by his fellow boat race team members – he thinks that sharing experiences with like-minded persons is a crucial part of any lifestyle changes. Mutual motivational pushes are important in a team. However, for Helge the individual and personal goal is the most important aspect:

So here’s Helge Gruetjen’s recommendation for all of you who want to lose weight: start moving, start exercising, start today! Stay realistic, set yourself realistic goals! Check whether you reached your goals on a daily basis!

We could rephrase that: start with quantifying yourself today!

Datarella – Lessons Learned: Hire Slow – Fire Fast

A lot of entrepreneurs hire fast and fire slow. In particular when new coders are required to develop a software. A bias towards speed and quick growth drives many leaders to be quick to hire new personnel and strategic cooperation partners. Hiring fast is absolutely fine as long as everything works out well. The problem is, many people do not react quick enough when they figure out problems and significant quality issues with the people they cooperate with.

Datarella decided to hire a German-based software development team for the programming of the prototype app including a backend system. The team had good references and offered us their service at an attractive price. The introductory meeting was very promising. It was clear to hire them quickly.

Over the course of time, we figured out that the development team lost one of their key persons, who supported us on our project. As a result, they stopped hitting the pre-defined milestones and started to deliver poor quality. Firstly, we asked them to take care of the problems they obviously had within their team. Secondly, we put them under pressure to deliver in time. However, our development partner was not able to improve his performance. As a consequence, we decided to quit our agreement and to hire a new development team. Probably we should have done so much earlier…

If you figure out any problems with your staff or partners, react quickly and if worst comes to worst you need to fire fast.

Datarella People – Michael Ricks, Self-Tracker, Investment Banker, Inventor

Here’s the transcript of this Datarella (DR) interview with Michael Ricks, self-tracker, investment banker and inventor.

DR
Michael, you are an American living in Munich, Germany. Could you tell us a little about you?

Michael
Ok – so, what am I? A guy who is trying to get the most out of life. I’m a father of four kids who are pretty active. I work as an investment banker and inventor, and otherwise I’m just enjoying life.

DR
How do you track yourself?

Michael
Probably like everyone does. I get up in the morning and think about what my day is going to bring. Every day I do a thousand repetitions of something or a combination of those thousand things. So, most days I start with a hundred stit-ups in bed! And that’s the beginning of tracking what I’m doing there in the course of the day. Then I figure out how many hours I’ve slept, and then I decide how to spend my day: I look at my calendar, divide up my time, dibide up my activity… and start!

DR
What reason would there be to stop tracking yourself?

Michael
If tracking became something which consumed more time and energy than it delivered in terms of benefit, I’d stop.

DR
That’s easy! Should more people track themselves?

Michael
Well, I think that people who don’t track are missing out. Usually you can see the symptoms of people’s failings to track their own bodies and activities. You see it on simple things: people being obese, you see it on more difficult things, e.g. people not being successful in their business activities simply because they’re not using their time sensibly.

DR
In which situations does tracking make especially sense?

Michael
I think it especially makes sense in terms of things that are life or death. So, I want to know whether I’m getting the right nutrition I need, I want to know if I’ve got some sort of dread disease that can be cured. I also want to keep up with my body’s development over time, if my organs are all doing their job. Finally, I want to keep myself on track, keep myself honest.

DR
Do you share your data?

Michael
That depends on what you mean with „sharing my data“: do I post it on Facebook for everyone ego read? No. But do I make my data available anonymously? We all do that probably a lot more than we think – so my blood tests is certainly information being compared in the lab I have my blood tests done in. Thats the same with some other things we do – it simply becomes public information.

DR
Sharing data can help people. It can save lives. Is sharing data there fore a social obligation?

Michael
Hm. An example of that would be the case of someone who has leukemia and a transfer of bone marrow from an appropriate donor could save their lives. But in order to find out who the appropriate donor is you have to know many more details than you see from looking from the outside. So people do have to get tested.

And I think it makes sense. I’m also a blood donor, and there you would got to have information that’s relevant for both parties in order to make sure that someone would get what they need.

DR
How has tracking changed your behavior?

Michael
I guess, I try to be purposeful in my life. And by tracking I’m able to better understand whether I’m really being purposeful. I then can think about what I’m doing with my time, what I’m doing with my body, and – in the end – have a better idea whether I’m delivering on my life mission.

DR
Cool – now the last one: what is your favorite tracking app and/or what must a tracking app offer?

Michael
Hm. I would honestly say I don’t have a favorite, yet, because I have to use different ways of tracking information in order to achieve all of my objectives. Right now, I’m using a wristband, the Jawbone Up, and – with all of its pitfalls, the device is able to keep me up and moving, not sitting around during the course of the day. It let’s me know whether or not I had a good, restful sleep, and how much of it. So that’s the one I use the most for right now.

DR
Great! Thank you very much!

Michael
Thank you!

Data Based Storytelling And The Real Customer Journey – or: What To Learn From Data Journalism

Know your customers and build an ongoing relationship between them and your brands by looking beyond a on-time meet-up caused by a marketing campaign! Highly engaged users become loyal customers, have higher LTVs and contribute more to your bottom line than the casual customer. Yes to that. But how to to build a stronger relationship with your customers? Do you know enough about them to accompany them on their journeys?

If you’re a reader of Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, you’re aware of his disdain for opinion journalism (e.g. op-ed columns), which „[…] doesn’t seem to abide by the standards of either journalistic or scientific objectivity. Sometimes it doesn’t seem to abide by any standard at all.“

So, if a (well researched, if good) op-ed column does not fit to a journalistic or scientific standard – does a customer journey description, which (typically) ends when the customer actually starts his real life journey because she leaves her desktop, fit to any marketing research standard? Won’t the customer act and express herself in a different way when on the road, when actually being shopping, when passing by out-of-home advertisements in a hurry – compared with relaxing with her iPad in her living room?

Those real life customer journeys show that in order to fully understand your customers, you have to follow them everywhere. You have to plug into your customer to learn from her, to learn about the places she visits, about her habits and about her needs to eventually optimize her daily routine. If you manage to be that near to hear you can tell her the right story – in this case a story based on her data. Coming back to our analogy with journalism: The plural of anecdote is data,  as political scientist Ray Wolfinger said in 1969.

Every user of a smartphone or any other wearable devices produces an enormous amount of data ever day. If you manage to collect that data, to analyze it correctly and to translate it into useful recommendations and appropriate user stories, you will build strong relationships with you customers. With our explore app, you can accompany your customers, ask the the right questions at the right times and learn a lot about their whereabouts, habits and attitudes.

Datarella People – Florian Schumacher, QS Evangelist

Here’s the transcript of this Datarella (DR) interview with Florian Schumacher, Founder QS Meetups, Germany.

DR
Florian Schumacher, you started the first Quantified Self QS Meetup in Germany. Could you introduce yourself and tell us about your QS approach?

Florian
When I learned about Quantified Self in 2011, I immediately felt attracted by its very positive culture. Consequently, I started the QS meetups in Berlin and Munich in 2012 which is a lot of fun. Besides, I am a trendscout of Wearable Technologies AG. Here, I’m dealing with all devices you can wear and the sensors which collect behavioral data.

DR
What do you track yourself and how do you do that?

Florian
I regularly and passively track my weight, my body fat, my physical activities and my sleep – all those data are collected automatically, so that’s completely effortless. Then, I manually collect sample data on my blood pressure, blood sugar, my girth, and I try to keep an eye on my haemogram. This, I do on a weekly basis. Then I track other data as time, which is quite sophisticated, since it’s not automated at all and I track everything: every project, every lunch, every activity finds its place in my calendar. So I have a good overview of how I spend my time, and how my time is devoted to my hobbies.

DR
You told us that you have lost weight – voluntarily, that is – that means tracking has very specific consequences on your life!

Florian
Yes, indeed. I have been testing QS devices for three years now. While I kind of just tested theses devices before, I have started to use them for special purposes last year. I have been trying to lose weight, I’m on a special diet and let my ape count my calorie intake. Then I check what nutritients my food actually contains. Then I exercise regularly – and by tracking all that I can understand my body’s changes very well – and I like that very much!

DR
Then for you QS is more a motivational thing, rather than a supervisory body…

Florian
QS is a control body, but more in a positive sense: by comparing different measured values I learn and get a better understanding of my body and, consequently, I get motivated and become happy even if sometimes this way is somewhat hard.

DR
Do you share your tracking data with others?

Florian
Yes, but I only share some of my data: e.g. I share my steps within my Fitbit community – but only my steps – since for me these are indiscriminate data. All other data I would share with my doctor rather than with my friends.

DR
So you draw a line at sharing your data. Could you elaborate on that a little more?

Florian
I think that’s very personal everybody should define what data to share individually. Sharing your data can be very motivating if people have mutual goals. There are studies showing that everybody will be far more successful if all share their data which each other; e.g. people lose two to three times more weight if they share their goals and data. That means in case of very personal data (e.g. illnesses) I would share my data within a closed group of likeminded people, but I think everybody should decide that by herself – and there should be some control mechanisms preventing abuse of this data.

DR
At QS13, Gary Wolf [Co-founder of the Quantified Self] said that Tracking and data sharing would become a social responsibility to provide access to important learnings to everybody. Do you agree with Gary?

Florian
I don’t think that self-tracking should become a, obligation for everybody. But what I strongly support is the anonymous sharing of data to realize potential benefits in scientific research and pharmaceutical product development. I’m sure that this will promote our culture to the next level.

DR
A last question: which tracking app or gadget do you like most?

Florian
I really like this Basis band, since it automatically tracks my sleep, my movement and it accurately calculates my calorie intake. At the moment the Basis is the most accurate tracking device on the market and I like it very much!

DR
Thank you!

Florian
Welcome!

How Big Data Changes Marketing

About 0.5% of big data collected is actually being analyzed and monetized. The „rest“ ends up unused. 90% of all data ever created has been generated in the years 2012-2013, and 30% of it contains valuable information. During the last years, the amount of data has been increasing exponentially. Enterprises around the world are beginning to put Big Data on the top list of their operations.

Big Data comes with a paradigm shift not only in research: here, the industry is shifting from finding and asking the right questions to letting the data speak for themselves, enabled by smart algorithms doing their analysis automatically. In marketing, the same paradigm shift is taking place: CMOs are provided with factbased, individualized answers in realtime, rather than with intuitive, retroactive perspectives of traditional market research.

While it’s not the data in Big Data which is important. Rather, it’s the insights derived from it, the quality of decisions you make and the actions you take that transform big data into smart data, or “affinity data”, if you drill the data funnel down to the individual: the more information marketers have on their user’s likes, preferences and interests, the better they can target the individual with content personalized to her interests. This is helping companies generate insights into their customer bases, and thus create new and better targeted products and services.

There are twice as many „things“ connected to each other on the internet than people. By 2020, this number will rise to 50 billion connected devices. Devices connected with themselves and people – this gigantic communication network will provide unprecedented insights into human behavior. From customer segments to the individual customer, from retroactive long-term research to realtime knowledge – the new status quo of data amounts to enormous opportunities on the one hand and crystal clear obligations on the other: enterprises that do not understand the implications of big data will lose traction against their smarter competitors who have built up vitally needed expertise in big data analytics.

Over the next weeks we will describe how big data can make a substantial impact in customer engagement, customer loyalty and the overall marketing performance. We will start with the airport industry which, beside its aviation business, heavily relies on the non-aviation business, such as shopping malls.

Quantified Self or Quantified Us – A Social Responsibility

Life logging, tracking, the Quantified Self, the Quantified Life – and now the Quantified Us? Do we need more or better expressions for this global trend which motivates people to change their behavior?

Matthew Jordan and Nikki Pfarr from Artefact make their case for changing the Quantified Self into Quantified Us. The first degree of meaning, that is to know your personal data, is the first step for all life loggers: by collecting data about their behavior they can compare their subjective perception of movements, food intake etc. with the reality. And get meaning from that, such as: „Ah, I see – I don’t run 10 kilometers every second day but I run 7.5 kilometers twice a week – on average.“

After having learned about oneself, the user takes action – the second degree of meaning: she buys new running shoes to please herself and then she extends her weekly parcours to 10 kilometers, completed every second day. Lesson learned, quality of life of the individual improved.

The third degree of meaning would be added, when people get advice to make better use of their – and other people’s – data in the moments when decisions are actually made. A basic requirement for the third degree is that people (anonymously) share their personal data.

Matthew and Nikki prefer a Quantified Us approach to the Quantified Self. They call for groups of like-minded people quantifying themselves and sharing their data with each other. Apps which support those groups should help the users to make it easier to collect the data and to get a personal meaning from the data.

We could not phrase that better – and this is exactly the our approach at Datarella with our app explore: By asking our users questions we make it very easy for them to track those parts of their individual behavior which cannot be tracked by sensors but have to be added manually. She does not see a blank page which he has to fill by being highly creative , but by answering questionnaires, the user is guided and is able to add lots of contents in a very short time.

Second, explore user get feedback on their own behavior as well as the behavior of other users. They can use the answers of others as benchmark – and they see their individual position within the explore community.

These two aspects let every user provide their personal individual data as useful community data: by adding her own data, everybody is acting as an important piece of the puzzle. And, as known from P2P networks, such as Skype, the result for each individual will improve with every new participant in the network or community.

Coming back to Quantified Self vs Quantified Us: yes, we totally agree that the social – or community – factor is necessary for the movement to become socially relevant. But we think that the individual – the self – is the key factor in the game: the individual must decide to participate in one of the most important movements ever, or to stand still and rely on traditional eveolutionary mechanisms.

We’d love to read your thoughts on that!

Crowdsourced environmental monitoring

Many parameters a smartphone accidentially measures are useful in monitoring the environment. We have recently discussed, how air pollution with particulate dust can be monitored with an easy ad on to the phone’s camera. But there are even more subtle ways by which users can help to research and monitor environmental conditions.

Another example is given by A. Overeem et.al. who track urban temperature over time in various metropole regions arround the globe. The approach is as simple as powerful: a regression over the battery temperature (that is measured by every smartphone anyway).

The microphone, too, can give valuable data on local environmental conditions for an unlimited mass of individual users that participate. Sound level show noise emmission that can be located in space and time. Noise is regarded as a prime source of stress, but rather little is known about the changes that occur in different microgeographic regions.

Apps like Weather Signal use thus a combination of the phone’s sensors to contribute to a richer model for weather conditions.

Appart from just passivly deploying the phones as sensor boards themselves, it is of course also possible to collect data from other local sources and just transmit the results via smartphone. This can be done by letting the users take a picture of some reading of a scale which can then be processed via image recognition. Or you just ask people to put in the readings or their observations into some kind of questionnaire.

The fascinating thing is: since so many people in almost every country carry a smartphone, monitoring environmental conditions and changes is now possible on far larger scales than ever before.

Big Data helping people to understand real-time pollution risks

From rapid urbanization in China to dung-fired stoves in New Delhi, air pollution claimed 7 million lives around the world in 2012, according to the World Health Organization. Globally, one out of every eight deaths is tied to dirty air – which makes air pollution the world’s single biggest environmental health risk. And, in areas with very bad air pollution, people live an average of 5 fewer years than those in other areas. 

Not only in Chinese megacities or indian agricultural areas, people are trying hard to keep air pollution at bay. In Portland, Oregon, a local initiative called Neighbors for Clean Air is using Big Data to make bad air visible. The group is part of an experiment in initiated by Intel Labs, that uses 17 common, low-cost sensors, each weighing less than a pound to gather air quality data. This data feeds to websites that analyze and present comprehensible visualizations of the data. The sensors itself are built using an Arduino controller. They measure carbon and nitrogen dioxide emissions, temperature and humidity.

By making the air pollution problem visible, the experiment not only made people recognize the importance of technology in understanding air quality, but Neighbors for Clean Air could forego an agreement with a local metal foundry to cut emissions.

If you want to have a look at your own air pollution, go to Air Quality Egg – perhaps one of the several hundred eggs worldwide has been installed in your neighborhood.