I spent the day at Wolfram Data Summit 2010 , where repository managers and experts from all over the world have convened in Washington to discuss the rewards -- and challenges -- of a new data frontier.
A series of speakers shared fascinating insights on the power of data, including examples of how data is at the forefront of new and exciting developments in the fields of medicine, health care, science, lexicography, media and more.
Take a look at some of the interesting projects presented today:
- Rapid Learning Project , aimed at finding timely, effective treatment for medical patients
- Encyclopedia of Life , documenting each species of organism on Earth
And two great examples of crowdsourcing:
- OpenStreetMap , an editable map that allows users to interact with geographical data
- World Wide Protein Data Bank , macromolecular data used by pharmaceutical companies
Keynote speaker and Wolfram Research CEO Stephen Wolfram  discussed the future of technical computing and demonstrated the capabilities of his year-old computational knowledge engine, Wolfram Alpha .
Wolfram stressed the importance of making data connections and being open to the possibilities that such connections can bring. "When dealing with specific data, connecting the data to other data -- that's really what it means to be computable."
He also shared some of his organization’s lessons learned:
- Sources matter. To get the right answers, you have to identify and utilize reliable sources of data.
- Validating data is getting easier, thanks to improved testing methods and better quality assurance.
- Pay attention to linguistics. Capturing the different ways that humans refer to things (including slang words and phrases) is key.
Just as the Bank is launching the Apps for Development Competition , Wolfram announced that he is holding a series of data challenges, utilizing a group of "enthusiastic" volunteer data curators and students.
I found it especially gratifying that many of the presenters are taking advantage of emerging technology, in the form of mobile apps, widgets and web-based repositories.
All of these developments have implications for the Bank and its work in developing countries, particularly in eradicating global health crises. Wolfram summed it up best: "We will look back on these years as when systematic data came of age... It's a fantastic intellectual adventure."
Stay tuned for more from the summit, which continues through Friday.
Join us Oct. 7, 2010, to discuss the power of open data at the World Bank Open Forum .