The growth of small, low-cost satellites and machine learning means companies can quickly and cheaply parse millions of satellite images a day. A common trick is to analyse photos of car parks outside big-box retailers such as Walmart to get a sense of daily revenues. A Chicago-based data firm, RS Metrics, sells estimates on the productivity of factories by tracking the number of lorries parked outside. The watchers, the 'Economist', 20 AugustMindful of Campbell's Law, I've always thought that each Social Policy Bond issue should target a set of metrics, each of which has to fall within a specified range before the bonds can be redeemed. Also, that, if we target a broad national goal (universal literacy, say) the bond's issuers could stipulate that the bonds would be redeemed on the basis of data from a random sample of people of the country, so as to minimize the risks of manipulation. Alternative data could contribute to robust combinations of metrics for the purposes of a bond regime, especially those covering countries where official data is scarce or unreliable. As the article says: "Investors are particularly keen for firms to study pictures that yield rare data on, say, steel production in China or Russia, where official data can be patchy." It's not difficult to imagine scenarios in which alternative data could play a possibly indispensable role in the monitoring of progress toward environmental goals, or goals such as disaster prevention or conflict reduction.
22 August 2016
Alternative data and metrics for a bond regime
The Economist writes about 'alternative data':