Jenny Morris
15 September 2020 by Jenny Morris
Data Science

It’s a good time to be a Data Scientist. Despite widespread economic upheaval and job insecurity, data science has been a relatively safe industry. In fact, some reports show that demand has increased due to the pandemic. The UK government views the industry as key to pandemic recovery and has promised to train 500 Data Scientists by 2021.

A Data Scientist’s role is to extract value from large-scale datasets, which can then be used for tasks such as maximising supply chain efficiency and providing insight into consumer behaviour. However, many organisations are struggling to identify those with the necessary skills and experience. In addition, like many fields, Data Science is adapting to a vastly changed landscape due to the impact of COVID-19. So, what are the current challenges and how is the field likely to change in response?

Automation

As automated-AI systems become more sophisticated, will there still be a need for Data Scientists? Target recently announced they could determine whether a customer was pregnant from her shopping data. More and more AI-based companies are popping up, making big promises about what automation can do. So, should Data Scientists be worried?

TechCrunch suggests not. The true value in Data Scientists is in understanding what data is required and why, then formulating the right questions. We have access to more data than ever (over 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created every day), but the creativity and business understanding required to extract value remains a fundamentally human affair.

If anything, further automation may increase demand for Data Scientists, because it will increase productivity and reduce costs. This trend has emerged time and time again (e.g. with software engineering) and allows firms, particularly smaller ones, to afford Data Scientists. Therefore, while the nature of the work might change, demand will not.

Redundant data

Data science is based on — you guessed it — data. Many techniques, such as machine learning, generate models on the assumption that past patterns and trends will continue. However, when COVID-19 transformed our daily lives, much of this existing data became redundant. Even now, it’s unclear which trends will remain long term, and models have no prior ‘pandemic-data’ to use, meaning their predictive power is likely compromised.

It’s an unprecedented issue which will require innovation from Data Scientists. Data Analytics firm, Quantum Black, recommend approaches such as recalibrating ‘live model management systems’ to allow for early detection of changes in datasets. It will also be vital to integrate new pandemic-related data (such as policy changes) with existing models and to increase collection of data to keep up with our changing world.

Government and Privacy

There is increasing concern over data privacy. If individuals do not trust organisations with their data, they may choose not to share it. This could seriously impact the accuracy of data-driven models. Europe has been attempting to compete on the international stage by taking an ethical approach over data privacy. Therefore, it’s vital that EU and UK based organisations fully integrate data privacy and ethics into all operations.

The situation for the UK will be complicated by Brexit. Hopefully, a mutually beneficial data-sharing arrangement between the EU and UK will be reached. However, companies are being advised to prepare for a less amenable outcome now, by taking actions such as implementing standard contractual clauses and company-specific rules. Either way, Data Scientists need to be vigilant to geographical changes in legislation to ensure proper data governance (which could be especially difficult when using data tools and models developed in countries with different rules).

Overall, data science is an excellent field to be in. However, external factors such as the development of automation, COVID-19 and Brexit are likely to have significant impacts on day-to-day work. Data Scientists will have to adapt — and those who not only embrace but drive change, may thrive.