datascience@berkeley Student Erin Boehmer on Big Data

datascience@berkeley student Erin Boehmer loves data. In her recent post for women2.0, she says, “Data speaks across cultural divides and gives a voice to the individual. And, as a Master of Information and Data Science student at the UC Berkeley School of Information, I’m starting to listen.”

Possessing the skills of a web and mobile developer and the heart of a humanitarian, Boehmer is passionate about finding ways that empower nonprofits and companies in emerging markets to use big data — not only to solve real-world problems, but also to save real lives. Using the Haiti earthquake as an example, she illustrates how technical volunteers from around the world were able to help create smarter response systems by gathering, analyzing, and creating action from data.

“They worked through the night to map everything from water shortages to vandalism from translated Creole text messages,” she says. “In a chaotic environment where communication could be the difference between life and death, hackers came to the rescue and saved lives with code.”

While she believes in the power of big data, Boehmer also acknowledges its limitations.

“We may need data about what people are thinking, seeing and doing, but we can’t markup a human to transfer through some protocol (yet!),” she says. “So we make do with what we have: tweets, blogs and a lot of fancy models. In the end, though, they’re all models that are dependent on the limited data we give them.”

Boehmer currently serves as a SMART Scholar through the US Department of Defense and has contributed to both local and global social impact projects through groups such as Code for America and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Read more at #TechTuesday: How Non-Profits Can Save Lives with Code.