The TRUE Africa 100 is our list of innovators, opinion-formers, game-changers, pioneers, dreamers and mavericks who we feel are shaping the Africa of today and tomorrow. We’re featuring them over 100 days and we’ve asked each of them three questions.
Professor at MIT, Sandy Pentland is one of the most-cited scientists in the world. He helped create and direct the MIT Media Lab and now works on hot issues like Big Data and individual privacy. In 2011, Forbes declared him one of the world’s seven top data scientists, along with Larry Page from Google. He has a particular interest in promoting entrepreneurship in developing countries and has conducted pioneering research in computational social science, organisational engineering, mobile computing and wearable tech.
Sandy Pentland was one of the main members of the team behind the D4D project. 90 research organisations from around the world – from MIT to the United Nations’ Global Pulse, the World Economic Forum and Bouaké University in the Côte D’Ivoire – collaborated on the analysis of data from mobile carrier Orange on the mobility and call patterns of the citizens of the entire Côte D’Ivoire. With the data, they mapped poverty and ethnic boundaries to help government and aid agencies better locate social tension zones. More practically, IBM’s Dublin laboratory showed that for very little cost, the average commute time in Abidjan could be cut by ten per cent.
Which upcoming innovations do you bet young Africans won’t imagine life without in a few years’ time?
Key innovations are mobile payments (sort of boring but important) as well as public information commons (perhaps provided by crowdsourcing) that let people know what is really going on in their city
How can your approach to big data and patterns of information improve the daily lives of young Africans?
First by opening up the data – where people go, what they spend, violence, new activities, etc. – for all to see, but second by using this open data to enforce greater transparency and accountability in government.
Who’s your African of the year and why?
I choose Aliko Dangote for investing in Africa and showing how traditional businesses like food production can become growth industries. This isn’t a passionate choice; it just seems like a decent and the best one.
Sandy Pentland’s most recent book is Social Physics.
Find him on Twitter @alex_pentland
Come back tomorrow for the next TRUE Africa 100 and keep up to date using the hashtag #TRUEAfrica