Amid growing public concern about government surveillance and threats to personal privacy, the fact that government agencies have a dismal record of information sharing does not
sound like a bad thing. But it is in fact a serious problem that costs billions of
dollars and endangers lives. Dr. Alon Peled of the University’s Department of
Political Science spent years studying the reasons why computer integration
projects in the public sector have failed; he subsequently developed an
“Some people say: ‘My best privacy protection is that one agency doesn’t know what the other is doing,’” says Peled. “The response is: ‘Okay, but it also means that lives will be lost.’ Indeed, the 9/11 Commission defined the refusal by agencies to share information with each other as the biggest failure during the 14
months before the attacks.”
Peled spent “three years working round the clock to develop a solution to this quandary.” His research led him to conclude that an “information sharing
impasse” plagues the entire democratic world. Billions of dollars have been
poured into solutions — from coercion to President Obama’s Project Open Data
to creating a body to establish interoperability standards. Not only did none
of these solutions work well, found Peled; they also shared a mistaken assumption — that the various agencies were aware of what data existed and had the goodwill to share.
Peled’s solution lies in creating a system of incentives for information sharing. He describes his Public Sector Information Exchange (PSIE) as “an eBay-like mechanism in government where agencies can commoditize their information assets as if they were real assets and, through a credit system, sell and buy from each other.” He laid out the theoretical framework for his idea in his book Traversing Digital Babel: Information, E-government and Exchange, being published by MIT Press in 2014.
He also won a Google Faculty Research Award, typically granted to computer
scientists, to build a prototype of the PSIE system under the guidance of Google’s Dr. Alon Halevy, who pioneered Google’s Fusion Tables.
The first stage of Peled’s project collects open data published by the US federal government and, using web crawlers and crowdsourcing techniques, tracks the data flow: what data was downloaded and used by another agency? The emerging corpus — in itself, of value to agencies and organizations — is the first phase towards developing a data exchange that will lower the cost of
finding and exchanging data within large agencies or bureaucracies.
Shepherded by Tamir Huberman, Vice-President for Business Development in Computer Science at the Hebrew University’s Yissum technology transfer company, Peled is now turning his basic science idea into a marketable product. Says Huberman: “It is very rare for a theoretical researcher in the social sciences to produce an application that solves an acute real world problem.” [SLS]
Yissum Research Development Company of the Hebrew University of
Jerusalem Ltd. was founded in 1964 to protect and commercialize the Hebrew
University’s intellectual property. Products based on Hebrew University
technologies that have been commercialized by Yissum currently generate $2
Billion in annual sales. Ranked among the top technology transfer companies
in the world, Yissum has registered over 8,500 patents covering 2,400 inventions; has licensed out 750 technologies and has spun out 90 companies. Yissum’s business partners span the globe and include companies such as Syngenta, Monsanto, Roche, Novartis, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Intel, Teva and many more. For further information please visit www.yissum.co.il.
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