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.” Download Full Image

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.

Editor Associate, University Provost

Magazine editor connects dots between literature, empathy

October 31, 2014

Reading literature increases a person’s ability to fully empathize with other individuals because it allows them to walk in another person’s shoes for at least as long as it takes to get lost in a story, according to the ASU Superstition Review’s founding editor.

Patricia Colleen Murphy will conclude the fall 2014 Humanities Lecture Series with her presentation of “Creativity and the Humanities.” Hosted by ASU’s College of Letters and Sciences and Project Humanities, the lecture starts at 6:30 p.m., Nov. 6, at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, 555 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, room 128. Patricia Colleen Murphy Download Full Image

The lecture series, now in its seventh year, is open to the general public and is free.

The theme for this year’s series is “Creativity and the Humanities.”

“It is essential for us all to explore our humanity in order to find who we really are,” said Mirna Lattouf, series organizer. “Through our creative ability to ask, ponder, investigate and connect, we are able to discover our essence of being. Part of ASU’s community outreach through the humanities lecture series is to help gain new insights into everything, and in the process find each other, our true selves.”

The College of Letters and Sciences provides students across ASU with the knowledge and skills to comprehend and effectively engage the changing world of the 21st century at local, national and global levels. Theory, creativity and applied learning are integrated as students build entrepreneurial opportunities both inside the university and their communities.

Murphy is a senior lecturer at ASU. She is the founding and managing editor of Superstition Review, ASU's online literary journal. Murphy earned her bachelor's in English and French from Miami University and her master's in creative writing from ASU. She has taught nearly 200 classes at ASU and has offered many workshops on pedagogy and teaching strategies to ASU faculty.

Her lecture will draw from a recent study conducted by David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano regarding the relationship between reading literature and the ability to fully empathize with other individuals.

“I will talk specifically about the ways my students develop humanities-driven concepts in their work with the literary magazine in all roles: advertising, editing and even social networking,” Murphy said. “Each semester I work with 30-40 students, and we walk through all the steps of running a national literary magazine. One of the first things I teach them is to understand what it means to have an audience of literary-minded readers. This is the first step in requiring students to think about the world outside of themselves.”

Murphy will discuss how work on a literary magazine, and the study of creative writing in general, can help promote humanities-driven concepts such as empathy, kindness, respect and self-reflection.

“Studying literature is perhaps one of the best ways to learn to empathize with other people,” Murphy said. “The work we do on the magazine embodies core humanities concepts, such as choosing to think from another person’s perspective and choosing to continuously examine the self and consider possibilities of change.”

Despite the perception of the state of book, magazine and newspaper publishing, Murphy said the proliferation of creative writing programs in the United States has doubled in the last decade, and that the study of creative writing is on the rise.

“When students get further into their coursework in creative writing, they often feel more emotionally connected to the curriculum than students in other fields,” Murphy said. “Many creative writing students have told me that their studies have allowed them to feel more connected to their peer group, their professors, the community and others.”

For more information on the fall 2014 Humanities Lecture Series, call Mirna Lattouf, series organizer, at 602-496-0638 or email

Reporter , ASU News