We were inspired by this year’s CNN10 Great Thinkers series not just because the people and the concepts they promote are literally changing the world.   We are inspired because they could never be possible without the kind of mastery of data intelligence that is pioneered right here in our data-driven marketing industry.  While these are not specific marketing analytics or data-driven marketing case studies, we think they celebrate the responsible use of consumer data – for marketing purposes where appropriate in some examples, and for business and social innovation in every case.

“The phones in our pockets and the Web at our fingertips. The way we live, the ways our children learn and the discoveries that make us excited about the days ahead.  None materialized out of thin air.  Great advances come from great ideas. And great ideas come from great thinkers,” the CNN website reads.

Here are some highlights of what the CNN10 are doing with data, according to the article:

  1. Jennifer Pahlka has experience straddling the worlds of technology and government. She also founded Code for America, a nonprofit organization that connects tech professionals with local governments to improve basic services.  In one of its most famous successes, a Code for America software developer built an app that helped clear fire hydrants in Boston after they were buried in a massive snowstorm. Citizens could sign up through the app to “adopt” a hydrant in their neighborhood and dig them out after blizzards; in exchange, they got to name their hydrant. Through crowdsourcing, the app addressed a civic problem that the city’s beleaguered fire department couldn’t solve on its own.
  2. Buried inside vast amounts of computerized data are answers to big questions, both helpful and lucrative. Shyam Sankar is working to extract those answers to solve crimes, fight terrorism and save lives.  Sankar leads a team of engineers at Palantir, a data-mining company with a reputation for mystery: It was founded in part with funding from the CIA, and its work has been tied to the National Security Agency’s controversial surveillance programs.
  3. Andrew Ng, founder of Coursera, doesn’t think Web courses can ever replace face-to-face learning on campus — they still lack a sense of community and one-on-one relationships with mentors — but he’s determined to improve the online-education experience.    One way he’s tackling that is in a classic research manner. Education research has primarily been an anecdotal science, but Ng is trying to make it more data-driven. For example, Coursera can see students’ keystrokes, track how long they pay attention to lectures and even see which multiple-choice answers they choose on tests before changing their mind.    “The amount of data per student we can collect is unprecedented in education,” he said. “We’re starting to mine this data for insights about human learning.”
  4. Through his own Nest Labs, Tony Fadell has reinvented the humble home thermostat. His digital Nest device is handsome to look at, is Wi-Fi enabled and learns its users’ habits to increase efficiency. The programmable thermostat can be controlled remotely with a smartphone and claims to cut users’ heating and cooling costs by up to 20%. Nest devices have saved more than 1 billion kilowatt hours in energy, Fadell says.  Not content to stop there, Nest just introduced a next-generation smoke detector that issues vocal warnings during emergencies and can be turned off by a wave of the hand.
  5. Caroline Buckee, an epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, has found a way to track the spread of malaria in Kenya by studying cell phone data. Her research, published in the journal Science, has the potential to help public health officials around the globe control outbreaks – not just of malaria but of other deadly diseases as well.


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