I recently joined a data science and advanced analytics company despite having no background in working with data. Within two months, I was staffing a stall at Data Summit – a two-day international conference held in Edinburgh on 21 and 22 March 2019 – talking to industry leaders about Internet of Things offerings.

While relishing such an exciting transformation, I took a moment to rewind to my pre-data literate self, the one with no knowledge of mathematics or statistics. Data has become quite the buzz word – everyone is talking about the big data revolution, but who, apart from data scientists, truly understands it? 

Cambridge Analytica taps into deepest fears

To a data-illiterate person, I would argue that this whole data revolution is something widely feared – it looks like a fast-moving train heading your way. You are unsure of what it’s going to do, how it’s going to impact you. The trouble is, you have no way of stopping it, which makes it kind of scary. This feeling is not helped by recent revelations about the likes of Cambridge Analytica, the company accused of using big data to help Trump win the US election. Such narratives tell us that data is dangerous and to be feared. 

As luck would have it, the keynote speaker at Data Summit was Chris Wylie, the whistleblower in the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal. From listening to Chris, it’s clear that there is a massive consciousness within the data community about the need for ethical boundaries and safeguards within this data revolution. Indeed, two of the seven sessions at the Summit focused on Ethics, Responsibility and Accountability. 

AI and big data v ethics 

Meanwhile, as part of our sponsorship, we at Merkle Aquila brought together major players in the data movement – Microsoft, Tableau, Data Lab and MBN – to debate whether automated AI/ML is good for society. Recent developments in the Data Science world have shown that the pressure to provide automated AI and ML tools is increasing. One of the main talking points was accountability with automation. Who is responsible for accidents with automated machines – the algorithm or its maker? The ethical use of data raises questions that are being discussed by scientists.  These are the types of narratives that should be reaching wider audiences as opposed to just the stories of data gone dangerous. 

Into space and beyond

The world of data is not this alien force that is only to be understood by a few. You don’t have to be a specialist to understand the changes and implications brought by data science. This is what was so brilliant about DataFest, in my opinion, it made data science accessible to someone who, for example, had only just learned what segmentation is. Not only is data science not to be feared but it is to be celebrated! From Dr Maggie Aderen-Pocock’s inspiring talk on the use of data in space exploration to robots improving safety in the workplace, my eyes were opened to the potential for data to become the tool that leads to breakthroughs. As if that wasn’t enough, it appears that I have somehow landed in an epicentre of this data revolution. Edinburgh is one of the fastest-growing tech-hubs in Europe and with Data Lab’smission to maintain the data talent in Scotland… there are big things headed for this space.

So, my take-home points? 

  • The data revolution is not to be feared by the non-data literate. There are many emerging spaces where if you want to understand data, you can. There are data meetups and conferences designated to teach and discuss.
  • DataFest has a wide variety of events, for people of all levels – data scientists and the data-illiterate. I would hope to see people of all backgrounds coming to attend these in the future.

And finally, there is no stopping this data train, so it’s best to hop on board. 

Here are some upcoming events taking place here at Merkle Aquila, click to find out more:

Scotland Data Science & Technology Meet-up 
April 2 @ 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm
Bistro 210, 210 South Market Street 
Aberdeen, AB11 5PQ

Neurons.AI Edinburgh Meetup: Robots and Autonomous Vehicles
April 4 @ 5:30 pm – 8:00 pm
Merkle Aquila, 7 Conference Square 
Edinburgh, EH3 8AN United Kingdom

Is Data Science Free-to-Play or Pay-to-Win? 
April 11 @ 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm
Merkle Aquila, 7 Conference Square 
Edinburgh, EH3 8AN United Kingdom

Keep checking our events page for future listings.