Celebrating One Year of MIT’s IDSS: Speakers Talk About How Data Can Change the World


Last week Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Institute for Data Systems and Society (IDSS) celebrated its first year with a 2-day series of lectures on how data gathering can be used to solve a number of society's most pressing problems.

The event was graced by prominent figures and experts in health, engineering, political science, finance, urban planning and computer science to discuss how today's massive deluge of data can be used not just to inform everyone but also to move policymakers to taking action. MIT's President L. Rafael Reif was also in attendance.  

IDSS was launched in July 2015 to use data and build a connection between engineering and science and the social sciences. The institute aims to educate a new breed of students who are extremely skilled and analytical but at the same time can also understand people and institutions and be able to combine research value with the human value.

IDSS's Director Munther Dahleh perfectly sums up the institute's focus, "an analytical, data-driven approach to problems". The Director who is also the William A. Coolidge Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science further disclosed that, "We collect the data, we develop the models, and from these models we develop insights, policies, and decisions."

Included in the celebrations powerful line up of speakers is Prof. Charles Stewart, the Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor in the MIT Department of Political Science and co-director of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, set the stage on fire with his interesting discussion on the role that big data is playing in this year's presidential elections and how these data can be useful information.

An example was cited by MIT alumna Kassia DeVorsey '04 who was part of the Obama campaign. Noting that data gathered during that time is now being used by other political candidates running for office in the different states and cities as basis on what they can do to make their campaign more effective and win over more votes.

MIT economics Prof. Alberto Abadie together with Prof. Enrico Giovannini also discussed the role of big data in the banking and finance sectors, specifically its role in keeping the money market liquid.

Sarah Williams, assistant urban planning professor at MIT lead the discussion on how data can make cities better places for people to live. Also in attendance at the said event were Mr. Robert Armstrong, Director of the MIT Energy Initiative and the Chevron Professor of Chemical Engineering who moderated the discussion on the future of the the electric grid and Mr. Peter Szolovits, computer science and engineering who moderated the discussion on how data can be used to analyze our health. The panel also discussed about social networks.

Today we have more than information that we need and we can definitely have more. Big data is big business but "big data will not change the world unless it's collected and synthesized into tools that have a public benefit," said Williams.

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