Features, Impact, Science

CDS initiative addresses issues in our society through civic-minded technology

Imagine a world where societal issues can be addressed and tackled by using tools created from data science. That is exactly what the Data Science for Good, an initiative by the Faculty of Computing and Data Science at Boston University, is trying to make a reality.

Boston University’s Center for Computing & Data Sciences. Faculty of CDS continue to work with the Data Science For Good initiative to tackle societal issues with technology. COURTESY OF JACKIE RICCIARDI VIA BU TODAY

DS4G is a national initiative new to BU trying to move the role of data science and technologies toward a more public interest focus, Stacey Dogan, professor of law and a founding member of CDS, said. The initiative has been in the works since 2020 but is finally getting underway as CDS accepts its first official class of undergraduate students at BU.

“The goal is to build a community of researchers, faculty members and scholars and students around the campus who are interested in harnessing these technologies in public interest or for purposes related to the public interest,” Dogan said.

In order to achieve this goal, DS4G will use the expertise of 17 different schools and colleges at BU, according to the DS4G website.

There will also be programs and courses surrounding the idea of civic-minded technology.

Some of these programs have already begun at BU Spark! — a lab for computer science and engineering projects under the umbrella of CDS.

Ziba Cranmer, the director of BU Spark! and a faculty member at CDS, said “Experts In Residence” is one of these programs.

“We have a number of individuals who are acting as super mentors in a sense or advisors/mentors to students who are working on experiential learning projects through Spark!” Cranmer said.

The projects these mentors have been working on include reform to the criminal legal system and applying data science to affordable housing, she said.

Other programs and courses focused on civic-minded technology are still in the works as the new initiative develops. They offer cross-college courses such as justice media co-labs.

“Justice media co-labs, a good example, where you’ve got journalism students working with computing and data science students, around computational investigative journalism,” Cranmer said.

The department has also already used civic-minded technology for the greater good, including working with the NAACP and WGBH to find a tool to “better understand the fairness of their coverage of the Black community in Boston,” Cranmer said.

“We have been building a model to help them with that analysis,” she said. “The editors of newsrooms could on a more kind of proactive basis and historical basis, really evaluate their newsroom’s performance, and how they’re covering the black community, for example, in Boston.”

The aim of CDS and DS4G is to create data science technology to discover solutions to the bigger problems in our society, Neha Gondal, an assistant professor of sociology and faculty member of CDS, said.

“Part of that initiative is spearheading data science that has public interest, research and doing the kind of data science that has broader social impact kind of outcomes,” Gondal said. “To address sort of broad, grand societal challenges. Issues like racism and discrimination or using technology to address issues of algorithmic bias for example.”

Data science will be featured in most disciplines, majors and aspects of our society which was the motivation to create CDS and why students should try out the CDS programs, Cranmer said.

“It’s really meant to be that bridge between other departments and other schools and colleges to help build this capacity and joint degree programs… so that students can get that competency whether they decide to major in computer data sciences or not,” she said.

Dogan said students can use the skills they will learn through DS4G for issues such as climate change and racial inequity.

“My hope is that our extraordinary students will feel inspired to use their talents, their skills and their knowledge to go out and change the world for the better,” Dogan said.


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