Joshua Blumenstock, Assistant Professor at the School of Information, will receive the Faculty Award for Research in the Public Interest, which honors research that addresses critical needs and issues affecting local, state, national, or global communities. Blumenstock was nominated by Vice Chancellor for Research Randy H. Katz.
“Dr. Blumenstock is arguably the leading scholar on data science and ‘big data’ for international development in the world today,” wrote Dr. Katz. “His training in computer science, data science, and development economics gives him a unique skill set that allows him to carry out ambitious research projects that have earned him immense respect among the academic and practitioner communities.”
In addition to being an alumnus and faculty member of the I School, Blumenstock is also Director of the Data-Intensive Development Lab, a Senior Fellow at the Berkeley Institute for Data Science, and a faculty affiliate of UC Berkeley’s Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA). His research lies at the intersection of machine learning and development economics and focuses on using novel data and methods to better understand the causes and consequences of global poverty.
“One of the most exciting aspects of this field is the fact that there are so many opportunities for minor innovations to have a major, outsized impact,” Blumenstock said. “Much of this work involves adapting the algorithms designed by the Google’s and Amazon’s of the world — originally built to sell products and target ads — to the needs and applications of people living in other contexts. Instead of targeting ads, target aid; instead of recommending movies, recommend the right medicine. It isn’t rocket science, but it can make a difference for a lot of people.”
Some of Blumenstock’s accomplishments include using machine learning models to predict indicators of economic behavior for the redistribution of wealth, employing algorithms for assessing credit in emerging markets to potentially expand access to financial services in impoverished areas and streamlining the process for Mobile Salary Payments to reduce government corruption in Afghanistan. This innovative research has earned Blumenstock recognition in the greater field of data science for international development. He has been invited to speak at the United Nations, the National Academy of Sciences, and the World Bank.
“Dr. Blumenstock develops machine learning algorithms and other analytical tools that leverage large digital data streams — especially mobile phone records — to generate precise, timely, and cost-effective insights for policymakers,” wrote Dr. Katz. “His work is directly and immediately useful to governments, NGOs, and social enterprises in their decision-making and is already generating significant, long-term welfare benefits for millions of impoverished individuals around the world.”
“It’s quite an honor,” Blumenstock shared when asked about the receiving the award. “The people who have received this award in the past are doing really inspiring work, so it’s unexpected and humbling to be in their company. More generally, it’s great to see public recognition for not just the work I do, but for this nascent field at the intersection of artificial intelligence and international development.”
This award will be presented at the annual Chancellor’s Awards for Public Service, taking place on Monday, April 29, 2019, at 3:00 pm in Sibley Auditorium.