Program Committee Insights: Drew Conway on D4GX 2016

The program committee for our 2016 Data for Good Exchange event (#D4GX) is the driving force in helping us bring together the best minds in data science across public, private and non-profit sectors. Leading up to this year’s conference in September, we will feature brief Q&As with some of the program committee members – providing a glimpse into the work they are doing in this space and their expectations for the event and the industry.

First up is Drew Conway, CEO and founder of Alluvium. Drew is a leading expert in the application of computational methods to social and behavioral problems at large-scale. He has been writing and speaking about the role of data — and the discipline of data science — in industry, government, and academia for several years. Drew has advised and consulted companies across many industries; ranging from fledgling start-ups to Fortune 100 companies, as well as academic institutions and government agencies at all levels. Drew started his career in counter-terrorism as a computational social scientist in the U.S. intelligence community.

Q:  With the Data for Good Exchange coming up in September, what are you are most encouraged about when it comes to data science impacting societal issues?

A:  I am most encouraged by the maturation of the Data for Good movement; from one that focused on building toy solutions to very complex problems, to one that considers deeply the tight braid of ethics, humanity and technology. The impact of Data for Good should be measured by how we are able to shift the conversation away from how technology and data science can help “solve” problems, to where we consider their limitations and implicit bias, and consider how to mitigate technology and data science when applied to societal issues.

Q:  Is there anything that you are currently working on – that you can share – that is particularly exciting in this space?

A:  Besides my ongoing affiliation with DataKind, there are no specific projects I am working on. Somewhat related, however, is a collaboration I have started withInsight Data Science and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America to develop a fellowship program to bring more US veterans into the data science and engineering community. More to come soon.

Q:  Are there any projects you are following – not your own – that are particularly innovative or encouraging?

A:  Not so much a project, but I follow closely everything that Danah Boyd and her team are doing at Data & Society. This is an organization that embodies well this tight braid I mentioned.

Q:  What do you hope will be some of the outcomes for this year’s event, both personally and for the broader data science, NGO, academic and non-profit communities?

A:  Personally, I am eager to re-immerse myself in the community. To see how much it is grown, see all the new projects that are being worked on, and meeting many new people. I look forward to hearing from the speakers how they are considering the delicate balance of the tools and technology with these thorny problems.