As an economist by training, data has always interested me. Today, getting a decent dataset with a few million records is pretty easy. It wasn't always that way, though - I still remember how for many of my colleagues at university, their choice of thesis was actually guided by what data was available and not where their interests laid!
I firmly believe that we, as a society, need to develop our numeracy skills. Regardless of what industry you're in, knowledge has advanced to a point where it's hard to truly innovate without some grounding in mathematics. The amazing thing is that it doesn't matter where you look, maths has a role to play everywhere: sequencing the genome, more effectively managing credit, high-velocity trading, customer engagement, even resource management within the public sector!
These applications require real skills. And, while those skills take time to develop, we seem to do a depressingly effective job in turning students off on maths. Where I think we let them down is in making it relevant - it took me a good decade after I learned calculus in high school to realise the practical applications. It wasn't until I was trying to benchmark the net utility created by two different policy approaches that everything clicked. Measuring the area under the curve moved away from being an abstract concept to something that actually meant something.
It's for that reason I was so happy to hear Keitha Booth from Land Information NZ talk about how the New Zealand government is making a large effort to join the open data initiative. With my private sector hat on, her point that leveraging this data can allow companies to innovate really resonated with me. With my personal hat on though, I think it's even cooler - it makes it easier for non-mathematicians to see the power of information. It's hard not play around with the LINZ Data Service without getting alternatively interested and excited!
The greatest thing is that there's so much out there. Regardless of whether you want to play around with data from New Zealand, Australia, the UK, or the world, there's insights everywhere. Numbers aren't just abstract concepts - they model reality. What better way to make mathematics relevant to a future generation of kids than to give them the ability to interactively explore the world they live in?