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Data Science and Engineering at Columbia?

October 29, 2011

Yesterday Columbia announced a proposal to build an Institutes for Data Sciences and Engineering a few blocks north of where I live. It’s part of the Bloomberg Administration’s call for proposals to add more engineering and entrepreneurship in New York City, and he’s said the city is willing to chip in up to 100 million dollars for a good plan. Columbia’s plan calls for having five centers within the institute:

  1. New Media Center (journalism, advertising, social media stuff)
  2. Smart Cities Center (urban green infrastructure including traffic pattern stuff)
  3. Health Analytics Center (mining electronic health records)
  4. Cybersecurity Center (keeping data secure and private)
  5. Financial Analytics Center (mining financial data)

A few comments. Currently the data involved in media 1) and finance 5) costs real money, although I guess Bloomerg can help Columbia get a good deal on Bloomberg data. On the other hand, urban traffic data 2) and health data 3) should be pretty accessible to academic researchers in New York.

There’s a reason that 1) and 5) cost money: they make money. The security center is kind of in the middle, since you can try to make any data secure, you don’t need to particularly pay for it, but on the other hand if you can find a good security system then people will pay for it.

On the other hand, even though it’s a great idea to understand urban infrastructure and health data, it’s not particularly profitable (not to say it doesn’t save alot of money potentially, but it’s hard to monetize the concept of saving money, especially if it’s the government’s or the city’s money).

So the overall cost structure of the proposed Institute would probably work like this: incubator companies from 1) and 5) and maybe 4) fund the research going on in (themselves and) 2) and 3). This is actually a pretty good system, because we really do need some serious health analytics research on an enormous scale, and it needs to be done ethically.

Speaking of ethics, I hope they formalize and follow The Modeler’s Hippocratic Oath. In fact, if they end up building this institute, I hope they have a required ethics course for all incoming students (and maybe professors).

Hmmm… I’d better get my “data science curriculum” plan together fast.

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