Emerging Explorer and data scientist Jake Porway is part of a new genre of National Geographic explorer in that his expeditions are occurring digitally. He is connecting nonprofits with data scientists eager to make a difference and help solve social, environmental, and community problems.
What project are you working on now?
I’m working on running DataKind, our non-profit that connects data scientists with social causes. We’ve currently got teams working with great social organizations using data to solve a slew of social problems, from connecting refugees with their lost families alongside Refugees United to uncovering corporate influence with the Sunlight Foundation to improving NYC’s trees with the NY Parks Department.
How has being a National Geographic Emerging Explorer helped your work?
Being an Emerging Explorer has connected us to a fantastic network of scientists, technologists, and naturalists who are striving to make the world a better place. We’ve also had opportunities to share our work through National Geographic’s great media avenues like the magazine, TV, and collaborations with other Nat Geo authors.
What are your favorite things about the internet and/or data?
My favorite thing about data is its vast potential to transform almost every aspect of our world. Just as personal computers changed the way we communicate with each other and create new products, data is going to soon drive almost every decision we make, from what movies we watch to what medical treatments we receive. There is almost no limit to the ways in which data can be used to make us all more productive, efficient, and more aware.
What do you see for the future of the internet and mobile devices?
I think mobile devices are going to drastically change the way we connect with each other and gather information about the world. I’ve heard the statistic that over 90% of the human population has a cellphone signal, which radically changes our ability to communicate with each other in ways never before possible. Add to that the fact that mobile devices allow us to collect information from the field and you suddenly realize we’re entering a new bottom-up paradigm in science, a world where information is no longer collected by top-down studies requiring individuals to go out into the field with pen and paper, but instead gathered in realtime by hundreds of in situ actors. From locals snapping pictures of poachers to people uploading their health information in realtime, we will suddenly have access to new streams of data that we never before imagined.
If you could trade places with one explorer at National Geographic, who would it be and why?
I think I’d have to go with Lucy Cooke because she gets to hang out with the coolest creatures on the planet.
What do you think National Geographic explorers will be exploring in a hundred years?
It’s hard to image what we’ll be doing in 10 years. I can only imagine in a hundred years we’ll be exploring distant planets or will have just about cracked human consciousness. That or we’ll all go the way of WALL-E and trade in exploration for super comfortable floaty-chairs and cupcake milkshakes.
If you were to bring back one species of animal that has gone extinct, what would it be?
I always dreamed of having a pet ankylosaurus so I’ll bring those guys back.
Have you ever been lost? How did you get found?
One time I went hiking too close to sundown and got lost in a canyon in the dark. There was never any real danger, but it took a scary walk through the blackness past aggressive dogs and strangely lit cabins to get back to civilization. I bought a phone with GPS the next day.