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Computer science postdocs discover new uses for big data

October 31, 2014

We’re drowning in data but we haven’t fully learned how to make the best use of it, says Frank Stein, director of the IBM Analytics Solution Center in Washington, D.C. Stein was one of the keynote speakers at the first Arizona Computing Postdoc Academy conference, hosted by Arizona State University. The one-day conference was funded by a Postdoc Best Practices Arizona Grant.

Stein’s presentation at the conference included an estimate that 90 percent of the world’s data has been created in the last two years. “We're creating more and more information every year, including pictures, text messages, tweets, electronic health records and research results,” he says. “All this information provides us with the possibility to make smarter decisions – if we have the ability to find insights in these mountains of data.”

Collaborations between computer scientists and those in health care, humanities and social sciences are necessary to harness this wealth of data for human good, agreed conference participants.

Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, senior vice president of ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development and director of the Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing (CUbiC) discussed creation of devices for individuals with a range of disabilities that will promote independence and improve quality of life.

From ASU’s Nexus Lab of Digital Humanities and Transdisciplinary Informatics, director Michael Simeone discussed opportunities that big data hold for all human-related interests, from language and culture to climate change and city planning.

Watson, the IBM computer system that competed and won against two former champions on the quiz show Jeopardy, is now being utilized as an aid to analysts and academics, health providers and oncology clinicians. Watson’s ability to synthesize and rapidly search massive amounts of data is accelerating research and providing insights to health providers.

“The next era, cognitive computing, aims to expand human expertise to allow us to utilize all this information to find new answers and insights,” says Stein. “The future result will be cognitive assistants that will work alongside us as an adviser to help accomplish our tasks at work and at home.”

The Postdoc Best Practices Arizona Grant is a partnership between ASU Graduate EducationSchool of Computing, Informatics and Decision Systems Engineering; Science Foundation Arizona; Northern Arizona University; and University of Arizona. Funding for the grant was provided by the National Science Foundation through the Computing Consortium Committee of the Computing Research Association. This first year focuses on training postdocs in computer science and engineering in multidisciplinary perspectives and future challenges.