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Ben Reid

Data is the Infrastructure of the Future

The AI Forum’s Ben Reid attended this workshop at Victory University of Wellington and shares his highlights here:

Last week I attended Data is the Infrastructure of the Future workshop facilitated by Gavin Starks and I’m still feeling energised. Gavin has a distinguished and varied CV including Founding CEO of the Open Data Institute chairing the United Kingdom’s Open Banking Standard, now being replicated around the world. The workshop was well attended by many of key players in New Zealand’s data ecosystem, including Government, academia and students.

Gavin is clearly a master in his field and a patient teacher! He managed to compress what is normally a three day exercise into a half day workshop. The workshop focused on how do we design for the future where data is the infrastructure? In particular, what initiatives could we initiate in the next three, six or 12 months to leverage New Zealand’s available data to deliver better outcomes across the economy, society and the environment?

Gavin’s thesis is that data can be used to turn social, environmental and economic impact into business as usual, resolving issues that require the web scale coordination of constituencies across the private and public sectors.

A few key takeaways and insights from the workshop for me:

  • Gavin’s thesis is that Data is the new shared infrastructure (not the ‘new oil’). In the same way that open roads enable our physical economy, open data enables our knowledge economy. A great example of this is the UK’s Transport API which now underpins around 80% of transport information services in the UK.
  • We ain’t seen nothing yet! The amount of data in the world is growing exponentially, but much of it is basically a ‘toxic rubbish dump’ of discarded, useless data.
  • There’s a whole new generation of attitudes to data emerging. (Particularly like ‘Open source as a weapon’!)

The interactive part of the workshop focussed on addressing challenges in front of us and then considering actions to solve these challenges with data. The workshop format of one year, six months and three months time horizons for action was particularly effective. Teams worked on problems as diverse as social inclusion, transport and improved data accessibility.

Our team, Where’s Daisy? was challenged to use data to address multiple problems of the currently under siege, cow farming industry. An openly accessible, cow location tracking API service which enabled historical location data for any cow in New Zealand. When combined with other data sources and a healthy dose of machine learning, this would enable use cases such as:

  • How many cows are there in New Zealand and where are they?
  • Track a cow’s movements from birth to death.
  • How did this disease spread?
  • What is next month’s milk or meat yield?
  • Where did my milk or steak come from? (consumer end-market)
  • Which farms are complying with the NAIT tracking system?
  • How many cows are there per square km on this farm or land parcel?”
  • What’s the ratio of trees to cows on this farm?
  • What’s the nitrogen runoff from this farm?”
  • How far away are the cows from the water boundary?

Our discussions highlighted the question, is the protein farming industry open enough?

My thanks to the team at Victoria University for bringing Gavin to New Zealand and hosting this workshop, I look forward to seeing the impact of this ‘Data is Infrastructure’ thinking throughout New Zealand.

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Ben Reid I head up the AI Forum of New Zealand - working to harness the power of AI to help bring about a prosperous and inclusive future for New Zealand and the world. The AI Forum NZ brings together technology firms, businesses, universities and the government to connect, promote and advance the national AI ecosystem.