The earth welcomed its 7 billionth person today. Or thereabouts. In predicting the arrival of this major milestone, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) admits the margin of error could be as high as 56 million people.
The UNFPA doesn’t have the technology needed to monitor the birth of every baby on the planet. But it can make an educated guess using census data, other surveys, and population registers. And with a little help from software giant SAP, it aims to provide some additional insight into the length and breadth of the world’s population.
Whether the 7 billionth person arrive today or tomorrow, the bottom line is that the planet’s population is growing and growing fast, and its massive size is pretty tough to wrap your head around. Using one of its business analytics tools — the Crystal Dashboard Design — SAP has compiled data from the UN Population Division, World Bank, UNESCO, and a host of regional sources to provide an interactive look at the world’s population it calls 7 Billion Actions.
“We’re trying to change the consciousness of how the world takes responsibility for its population,” Janet Jensen, the editor of 7 Billion Actions, told Wired. “It’s a call to engage people in this issue.”
The site lets you drill into historical population data through a visual interface, and even look at future projections, thanks to projections from the UN Population Division. You can, for instance, compare the population across Europe and North America with the growing bubble in China. “We’re trying to take the subject of the world’s changing population from awareness — to insight,” Steve Williams, SAP’s director of corporate social responsibility told Wired.
7 Billion Actions is powerful, but it ends up inspiring more questions than it answers. What would happen if sea levels rose? What if incomes suddenly spike in India? What happens when the interiors of Africa becomes saturated with smartphones? These are all questions you begin to ponder as you browse the site.
IBM recently announced a project in tandem with the The University of Texas at Austin that aggregates the topography and flow data of local watersheds and predicts the areas that will be first and worst affected by flash-flooding. The program analyzes thousands of rivers and creeks and makes predictions up to four days in the future. It is still too early to tell if the program will be successful, but such takes on real-time analytics seems a logical next step for 7 Billion Actions and other tools like it.
Williams did note that should the two organizations continue to partner together past this project, there is an opportunity to start injecting more real-time data.