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A new challenge designed to bring the brightest minds in big data science together to solve real-world problems was announced by the British Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl). The first challenges of the Data Science Challenge.are detecting and classifying vehicles from aerial imagery and the classification of documents by themes, with each challenge boasting a total prize fund of £40,000.

The Data Science Challenge is sponsored by Dstl, the Government Office for Science, Secret Intelligence Service and MI5. It is part of a wider programme set out in the Defence Innovation Initiative that aims to build an open innovation ‘ecosystem’, harnessing the talents of individuals, academia and industry to develop new approaches to complex problems. The Challenge is piloting new ways of working including the use of crowdsourcing to engage the data science community to develop cutting edge solutions to Defence and Security problems.

According to the UK government website, the Challenge includes two distinct problems that will test the participants’ ability to mine large unstructured datasets to extract useful information:

  • Safe passage: detecting and classifying vehicles in aerial imagery

Being able to automatically detect and categorise vehicles in aerial imagery will dramatically improve how quickly we can assess and identify them. This challenge asks participants to detect and classify vehicles such as buses, cars and motorbikes, from a set of aerial images.

  • Growing instability: classifying crisis reports

Analysing data in documents such as media reports can provide a better understanding of a potential crisis situation, growing instability in a particular region or specific theme such as terrorism. Using news material, this challenge asks participants to predict topic tags for classifying unseen reports so that they can be used to improve awareness and understanding.

James Srinivasan, a Principal Data Scientist at Dstl said: Around the world, governments are using the power of data to meet many of the huge challenges that they are facing. By analysing complex, evolving information, data science can provide invaluable insight that informs how we can best respond to event.

There is real talent out there and we want to encourage the curious to experiment and learn. This is why we are launching the Data Science Challenge. We are keen to encourage all data scientists, not just those in the defence and security sectors, who want to rise to the challenges that we have thrown-down today, to get involved.