First, they gave us targeted ads. Now, data scientists think they can change the world


“The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads … That sucks.”

– Jeff Hammerbacher, co-founder and chief scientist, Cloudera

Well, something has to pay the bills. Thankfully, there’s also a sweeping trend in the data science world right now around bringing those skills to bear on some really meaningful problems, from the effects of tree pruning to mapping humanitarian crises around the world. I don’t know about you, but I’m willing to sacrifice a little digital privacy if it means saving some lives.

We’ve already covered some of these efforts, including the SumAll Foundation’s work on modern-day slavery and future work on child pornography. Closely related is the effort — led by’s deep pockets — to create an international hotline network for reporting human trafficking and collecting data. Microsoft, in particular Microsoft Research’s danah boyd, has been active in helping fight child…

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