A year ago I wrote a blog thanking Data IQ for being named in its 100 most influential people in data. It opened with the line, “It seems strange to be writing this blog given everything that is happening at the moment. In the context of the Corona Virus crisis, talking about the Data IQ 100 feels quite frivolous.” Rereading that today after being named again in Data IQ’s 100 made me realise just how little and how much has changed in the past year.
2020 was a huge year for the data science industry. It has played a major role in shaping how the world at large has responded to the Pandemic. Everything from charting and predicting the spread of infections through to helping businesses adapt to changing consumer behaviour. It is fantastic to see so many of the data leaders who have helped to tackle this crisis recognised in the top ten. For example, Jim Weatherall, who is supporting AstraZeneca’s vaccine development and clinical trials and Neil McIvor who doubled down on the data efforts to help schools navigate this incredibly challenging time. Data science was, and is, everywhere. The public are also now much more aware of the power of data science, and specifically, AI. We saw how the missteps around predicting exam grades set off a storm of criticism and brought long standing issues such as data bias to the front pages.
With data science’s influence growing there is naturally more intense scrutiny. The exam’s incident can be seen as a microcosm of what the data science industry could experience over the next decade if we don’t take steps now to ensure our future. Many people in the industry have, for some time, been concerned about the ethical use of data particularly with respect to AI. As data industry leaders, I feel it is our duty to tackle these issues proactively. We should unite and create an industry wide best practice and code of conduct that will head off potential misuses of cutting-edge data science techniques and raise standards across the board.
At Profusion we’ve taken our first step with our Data Ethics Advisory Board. This board has united practitioners from multiple companies and practice areas with the express aim of providing advice to us and the industry on how tricky ethical dilemmas can be approached.
It may seem overly ambitious to think that such an initiative could be applied to the data science sector at large. However, consider the alternative. We’ve seen how the social media industry has, through years of lax, vague and inconsistent rules, largely destroyed its reputation among the public. Now, governments across the world are looking at wide ranging, and in some cases, draconian legislation. It is in no one’s interest for data science to go down the same path.
Looking through the Data IQ 100 I can see scores of great champions of the data science industry. Leaders like Andy Hill who are staunch advocates of the ethical use of data or Wade Munsie who has created a truly data literate culture at GSK. There are many others in the Data IQ 100 who have been fundamental in supporting organisations in this very challenging year, no more so than Ming Tang who has been driving the data efforts of the NHS.
It is an honour to be named among them, but also, I feel a responsibility. We all have the power to guide and influence our industry and it is both a commercial and moral imperative that we do so with the wider public good in mind.