Big Data & Society Workshop

December 17, 2018

The one-day conference “Big Data & Society” held on December 3 was designed as the closing event of CEU’s Just Data Project spanning 2 years. This Intellectual Themes Initiative project aimed at connecting several departments (Department of Network and Data Science, School of Public Policy, Department of Economics and Business, Department of Legal Studies, Department of Mathematics and Its Applications and the Dean of Students Office) through topics and projects related to Big Data revolution and its impact on society.

In-house speakers (Miklós Koren, Arieda Muço, Federico Musciotto, Orsolya Vásárhelyi & Balázs Vedres), invited external researchers (Balázs SzegedyRényi Institute (Budapest), Peter KlimekComplexity Science Hub (Vienna), Luca PappalardoISTI-CNR (Pisa)) and industry representatives (András VicsekMaven7 (Budapest), Gábor FáthMorgan-Stanley (Budapest)) showcased academic research and industry related applications which were enabled and formed in specific ways by the availability of vast amount of digital(ized) data and data analytics.

One branch of interest focused primarily on technological and methodological novelties. These presentations introduced recent mathematical developments to deep learning, measurements and applications contributing to the registration and investigation of human mobility based on geo-spatial mobility data (having an increasing impact on urban planning, traffic regulation, migration forecasting) as well as novel techniques to election forensic and fraud detection. Another branch of research tackled the inequalities in society from a data driven perspective. Presentations showed gendered behavior related biases in IT career success and survival, and geopolitical position related biases in scientific careers offering also a potential corrective model which may be introduced with data usage. A further approach introduced the way frequent random audits could improve whistleblower protection based on the investigation of a Brazilian anti-corruption program. Another research tackling the relation between firm productivity and structure of ownership bridged academic research to the third branch of presentations, showing industry applications, focusing on new possibilities and necessities introduced due to the Big Data revolution. Such applications which may enable consent procedures supporting company goals and complying with privacy and data handling at the same time, as well as ways to optimize processes increase efficiency or predict event probabilities. The latter showcased among others the emerging importance of robo-advisors in Finance.

The talks focused primarily on actual application and technological novelties enabled by Big Data usage rather than on consequences of these usages and applications regarding society. Also, rarely did the presentations embrace or incorporate approaches of Critical Data Studies. Some aspects of the latter came up during the closing round table discussion (János Kertész, Chrys Margaritidis, Miklós Koren, Peter Klimek). During this closing panel topics such as the implications of the General Data Protection Regulation, ethical aspects of data science and its role in the development of democracy and related best practices were tackled. Further on, thoughts related to the emergence of AI and the ways it could alter the role of theory in research came up. These and even more fundamental epistemological and ethical questions will remain in the forefront of science or even become more turbulent in the upcoming years as – according to the remark of one of the participants – we are only starting even just to find the suitable questions.

Blog post by Júlia Perczel