Embracing Data Science

  • Prosperity
  • 2017

The new field of “data science” trains people in how to sift, clean, organize, and make practical use of the huge new mounds of information now being produced by computer networks. It involves not just analysis but also new techniques like machine learning and advanced visualization that help find the patterns in giant data dumps, and then turn them into understandings that can drive actions that will be useful to society. For instance: a data scientist might analyze the millions of requests for rides made by Uber users to discover the most efficient places to stage drivers, or build future roads, or establish mass transit pickups, or site new residences. An epidemiologist might use data science to find commonalities in patients experiencing a rare disease. The economic value of new insights and discoveries made through data science can be very large.

Like many new intellectual fields, data science is just starting to develop consistent understandings and ways of working, and its practitioners are fitfully separating themselves from related areas of knowledge like statistics, information technology, mathematics, and graphic arts. University programs are doing most of this exploration at the frontiers of today’s data explosion, and San Diego donor Taner Halicioglu is making the University of California, San Diego one of the leaders in this area.

A UCSD graduate himself, Halicioglu was the first full-time hire of Facebook when he joined the firm as a software engineer, and subsequently became wealthy as the firm mushroomed. After leaving Facebook and becoming a lecturer back at his alma mater, he made a $2 million gift to the UCSD computer department in 2015. Then in 2017 he announced a $75 million gift specifically focused on building up a data-science institute at the university that can become a leader in the field.