Dronish number nerds

August 6, 2009 in Data

It's still not too late for Stats 101: The NYTimes published an article this morning titled "For Today's Graduate, Just One Word: Statistics." Of course I love to see articles like this, cognizant of the massive amounts of data we are faced we and acknowledging the efforts of the people trying to sort it all out:

In field after field, computing and the Web are creating new realms of data to explore — sensor signals, surveillance tapes, social network chatter, public records and more. And the digital data surge only promises to accelerate, rising fivefold by 2012, according to a projection by IDC, a research firm.

Yet data is merely the raw material of knowledge. “We’re rapidly entering a world where everything can be monitored and measured,” said Erik Brynjolfsson, an economist and director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Digital Business. “But the big problem is going to be the ability of humans to use, analyze and make sense of the data.”

The new breed of statisticians tackle that problem. They use powerful computers and sophisticated mathematical models to hunt for meaningful patterns and insights in vast troves of data.

There was a time when data was abstract; actions went untracked and opinions unarchived. Today, the intersection of two phenomena creates a different landscape: an increasingly digital lifestyle means that it is possible to track data accurately and quickly, and the need to perform analyses on a massive scale necessitate the use of such data. Imagine trying to run a multinational corporation without any computers!

A quote near the end of the article sums my thoughts up nicely:

“The key is to let computers do what they are good at, which is trawling these massive data sets for something that is mathematically odd,” said Daniel Gruhl, an I.B.M. researcher whose recent work includes mining medical data to improve treatment. “And that makes it easier for humans to do what they are good at — explain those anomalies.”

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