Carnegie Mellon University
October 06, 2021

“Digital Backbone” Holds Promise for Democratizing Data, Removing Food Disparity

By Kenneth Chiacchia

PSC’s Shawn Brown Speaks at U.N. Panel on Leveraging Data, AI for Alleviating Hunger

Computer technology has a pivotal role to play in reducing world hunger and food disparity, said Shawn Brown, director of PSC, at the 2021 United Nations Food Systems Summit. But only if we democratize data to pair individual innovation with collective knowledge.

“One of the things that we learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is that it’s key to have data shared,” Brown said, speaking as a panelist in a session titled Investment in Food Convergence Innovation for a Healthy People, Planet and Economy. PSC has been working on the concept of a “digital backbone” to leverage Big Data and artificial intelligence for better decision-making in an age of unprecedented data volume but still-limited ability to understand it all. “The digital backbone is really about democratizing access to data.”

“It really starts … with the building of [open] digital infrastructure that allows us to let anyone around the world be able to build tools, to be able to build methods, to be able to use … this data for decision making …” he added. The key will be to shift from siloed activities characterized by proprietary data to an economic model that allows businesses to thrive while cooperating, and without maintaining or widening disparity.

The Food Convergence Innovation High-Level Roundtable, in which Brown was participating, was a session at the U.N. Food Systems Summit that focused on “exploring the opportunities to transform our agriculture and food systems for equitable human and planetary health and wealth at the convergence of technological, social and delivery model innovation.” The Sept. 24, 2021 event was co-hosted by the Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations and the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI), Government of the Republic of Ghana, in collaboration with the McGill Centre for the Convergence of Health and Economics and the Global Partnerships Forum.

You can watch a video of the roundtable here. (Note: this links to a preview; to watch the full summit, download the video file.)