Imagine a world where societal problems can be tackled and solved using tools created from data science. That’s exactly what Data Science for Good, an initiative of Boston University’s School of Computing and Data Science, is trying to achieve.
DS4G is a new national initiative for BU that attempts to shift the role of data science and technology towards a more public interest, said Stacey Dogan, law professor and founding member of CDS. The initiative has been ongoing since 2020 but is finally beginning as CDS accepts its first official class of undergraduate students to BU.
“The goal is to create a community of researchers, faculty members, scholars and students around campus who wish to exploit these technologies in the public interest or for purposes related to the public interest,” Dogan said.
In order to achieve this goal, DS4G will use the expertise of 17 different schools and colleges in BU, according to the DS4G website.
There will also be programs and courses around the idea of civic-minded technology.
Some of these programs have already started at BU Spark! — a laboratory for IT and engineering projects under the aegis of CDS.
Ziba Cranmer, the director of BU Spark! and CDS faculty member, said “Experts in Residence” is one such program.
“We have a number of people who act as super mentors in a sense or advisors/mentors for students working on experiential learning projects through Spark!” Cramer said.
Projects these mentors have worked on include reforming the criminal justice system and applying data science to affordable housing, she said.
Other civic-minded technology-focused programs and courses are still ongoing as the new initiative grows. They offer inter-university courses such as justice media co-labs.
“Justice media co-labs, a good example, where you have journalism students working with computer science and data science students, around computational investigative journalism,” Cranmer said.
The department has also used civic-minded technology in the past for the greater good, including working with the NAACP and WGBH to find a tool to “better understand the fairness of their coverage of the black community in Boston,” Cranmer said.
“We built a model to help them with this analysis,” she said. “Newsroom editors could, on a more proactive and historical basis, really evaluate their newsroom’s performance and how they cover the black community, for example, in Boston.”
The goal of CDS and DS4G is to create data science technology to discover solutions to our society’s most important problems, said Neha Gondal, assistant professor of sociology and CDS faculty member.
“Part of this initiative is leading data science that matters to the public, researching and doing the kind of data science that has broader social impact,” Gondal said. “To address broad and grand societal challenges. Issues like racism and discrimination or the use of technology to address issues of algorithmic bias, for example.
Data science will be present in most disciplines, majors and aspects of our society, which was the motivation for creating CDS and why students should try CDS programs, Cranmer said.
“It’s really meant to be that bridge between other departments and other schools and colleges to help build that capacity and those joint degree programs…so that students can learn that skill whether or not they decide to majoring in computational data science,” she said.
Dogan said students can use the skills they learn through DS4G for issues like climate change and racial inequality.
“I hope our amazing students will feel inspired to use their talents, skills and knowledge to go out and change the world for the better,” Dogan said.