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Thursday, November 08, 2018

The Data Transformation of Universities

With all the news about elections, caravans, shootings and attorney generals, maybe you missed the various stories about real transformations at our top universities.

On October 15 MIT announced the Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing. Schwarzmann donated $350 million to the effort as part of an expected billion-dollar commitment that will pay for a new building and fifty new faculty.
“As computing reshapes our world, MIT intends to help make sure it does so for the good of all,” says MIT President L. Rafael Reif. “In keeping with the scope of this challenge, we are reshaping MIT. The MIT Schwarzman College of Computing will constitute both a global center for computing research and education, and an intellectual foundry for powerful new AI tools. Just as important, the College will equip students and researchers in any discipline to use computing and AI to advance their disciplines and vice-versa, as well as to think critically about the human impact of their work. 
Two weeks later the University of California at Berkeley announced a Division of Data Science to be led by an associate provost reporting directly to the provost (like a dean).
“Berkeley’s powerful research engine, coupled with its deep commitment to equity and diversity, creates a strong bedrock from which to build the future foundations of this fast-changing field while ensuring that its applications and impacts serve to benefit society as a whole,” said Paul Alivisatos, executive vice chancellor and provost. “The division’s broad scope and its facilitation of new cross-disciplinary work will uniquely position Berkeley to lead in our data-rich age. It will simultaneously allow a new discipline to emerge and strengthen existing ones.”
Sorry Berkeley, you are anything but unique. Every major research university is trying to build up expertise in computing and data science given the demands of students, industry and researchers across nearly all academic disciplines who need help and guidance in collecting, managing, analyzing and interpreting data.

Here at Georgia Tech, where we've had a College of Computing since 1990, we recently started an Interdisciplinary Research Institute in Data Science and Engineering and a Interdisciplinary Research Center in Machine Learning both to be housed in a twenty-one story CODA building that will open next year in Midtown Atlanta (sounds impressive when I write it down).

I could go on for pages on how other universities are rethinking and transforming themselves. Earlier this year Columbia (who hired Jeannette Wing to run their data science institute) held a summit of academic data science leadership. The report shows we have much to do.

The real secret is that none of us have really figured it out, how to meet the escalating needs for computing and data and integrating it across campus. We aim at a moving target problem as we sit just at the beginning of the data revolution that will reshape society. The future looks rocky, scary and fun.

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