Diagnosing cancer and stopping crime: How big data is leaving its mark

big dataIt’s easy to get lost in big data. The terabytes of data compiled and crunched by machines and programs offer new insights about our world. But where’s the signal? The noise? What does big data actually mean for you and me?

Big data isn’t about finding the needle in the haystack, but rather understanding the haystack, needle and all. Big data’s value lies in its useful and actionable insights, which are only as powerful as the data you’ve collected and the questions you ask of it. Understanding what the data can provide and how to use it is already earning dividends for some industries.

While the tech world hasn’t yet scratched the surface of big data’s potential to change the world for the better, two distinct fields are already making a difference with big data: oncology and policing.

Second opinion? Try 1,000 diagnoses.

You’re feeling a bit off, so you go to the doctor. After a checkup and a round of tests, your doctor arrives at a diagnosis. But instead of one doctor’s opinion on the diagnosis and treatment plan, imagine the input of a thousand doctors who’ve all read the latest research from around the world, and can prescribe the most effective treatment plan in mere minutes.

That’s what big data is doing in medicine, specifically in the field of oncology. IBM’s Watson cognitive computing system – the same one that humbled two Jeopardy champions – is being used in 10 to 15 percent of hospitals in the United States. It crunches millions of data points identified through research and case studies – and even the human genome — for cancers of the pancreas, ovaries, brain, lungs, breasts, and colon in addition to lymphoma and melanoma to find the therapies that lead to longer lives.

Watson can interpret patient information and compare it to millions of other cancer data points from other patients and studies, returning evidence-based treatment plans that reflect the newest research and success rates of similar cases. Because the system crunches huge amounts of real data from other people’s health records, it can identify patterns and connections to predict the success of specific treatment plans. Of course, doctors will always be there to consult with their patients about the findings.

And this is just the beginning – by 2020, the amount of health care data will double every 72 days instead of the current pattern of every 2 years. In the future, big data machines will use predictive analysis to raise warning flags before cancer spreads, for example.

Finding suspects and keeping communities safe

Big data software is already doing predictive analysis for some of the U.S.’s biggest police forces. In New York City, Los Angeles, Kansas City, and Seattle, police departments are using big data tools to determine where to deploy officers before crimes occur. Coupled with the idea of community policing, big data is equipping officers with more information about neighborhoods that have high crime rates and how to connect the dots in police reports.

By combing through the data in police reports to find patterns and trends, big data provides officers with new and detailed insights to determine what neighborhoods to canvass and who to interview. And in the case of Miami-Dade County’s 35 municipalities, big data software is crunching thousands of files , offering police officials a new perspective to solve cold cases and make better decisions about how to police high-crime areas.

After the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, tech experts wrote algorithms based on descriptions of suspects, and big data software products like HP’s Autonomy analyzed the unstructured data in video and images to narrow down hundreds of thousands of images to just a few hundred. By quickly filtering the data and detecting patterns, these big data programs help police departments make decisions faster.

Gaining value from big data

Across the economy, big data software and tools are increasing efficiency and uncovering hidden trends. The customized treatment programs for cancer patients, and the hot spots of crime and potential suspects that big data makes possible are pieces of a bigger puzzle, such as where cancer starts and why some neighborhoods are high crime, that’s valuable to society as a whole.

SHI partners with HP, EMC, IBM, Oracle, Cloudera, Teradata, and many other vendors in the big data ecosystem. Reach out to your SHI Account Executive or contact me at BigData@SHI.com to learn more about leveraging big data and business analytics in your organization.

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