The Driving Force of Data: DataFest2018

In an increasingly globalised world, does data drive society? This month, DataFest2018 in Scotland will explore this and the power of data.

Photo: Lauren Dall

Engineer and physicist W. Edwards Deming once said, “In God we trust; all others must bring data.” It was this relentless pursuit of the factual that led Deming to create the sampling method employed by the U.S. Department of the Census and U.S. Bureau of labour statistics. Deming is also credited with the post-WWII Japanese economic boom. As an advisor to Japanese industrial leaders, Deming delivered a paper in Tokyo in August 1950, entitled ‘Statistical Product Quality Administration’.

Deming was one of the most renowned scientist of the 20th century. In 1951, he was honored in Japan with the establishment of the Deming Prize, and, in 1987, President Reagan awarded him the National Medal of Technology. He received further recognition in 1988, when he won the Distinguished Career in Science Award, handed out by the National Academy of Sciences.

Deming’s prominence within the scientific community lent his love of data a visible, credible, and persuasive champion. Deming is in many ways the father of the modern data driven society in which we all now live.

In the last decades, the well-established field of statistics merged with the booming discipline of computer science to create the alluring, expanding, and ultimately invaluable sub-field of data analysis.  

The world in which we live in today is nothing more than a compilation of data points. Data has become the principal commodity of everyone from big government, to social media giants, to manufacturers. Every search we put into Google, every sweater we click on ASOS, every mobile order we place on the Starbucks app, is stored and analyzed for future reference.

Do you prefer blue or black, cashmere or wool, caramel macchiato or vanilla latte? Did you ever wonder why the travel coffee mug you searched for on Amazon Prime pops up the next day as an advertisement on your Facebook feed? Or, how that One Direction fan account you always search but never follow ends up all over the explorer page of your Instagram?

The answer is data.

Data is the driving force of change and industry in this increasingly globalized and technology driven society we currently live in.

Despite maintaining such a prominent role in society, there was a vacuum in which a forum for data appreciation, learning, and recognition could thrive. Enter DataFest, a week-long Scottish-wide festival run by The Data Lab, headquartered in Edinburgh, and founded in 2017. This year, DataFest also recognises ‘Data Warriors’, celebrating those who go above and beyond in their enthusiasm for data.  St Andrew’s very own Professor Aaron Quigley, Chair of the Human Computer Interaction at the University, was a significant figure in the establishment of the Data Lab, and himself has been named a Data Warrior.

In order to learn more about DataFest 2018 and the work of a Data Warrior, the Saint sat down with Professor Quigley of St Andrews.

The event is broken up into four separate categories with locations across Scotland, it is a celebration of data in all of its forms.

The headline event of DataFest 2018 is Data Summit which will be held over two days in Edinburgh. This exciting event includes none other than a Scottish Member of Parliament as a keynote speaker. Data Summit is targeted at anybody with an interest in the data and the opportunities that it brings and is also a great chance for people in work in the data industry to learn more from key leaders in the field.

Additionally, there will be an executive dinner event in Edinburgh during the DataFest week.

Although Data Summit is open to all, for all those science loving, computer science major, data obsessed students out there, an event is being held specifically for you! Data Talent will take place in Glasgow, specifically for students of data science and other related fields. Everyone with an interest in data should take advantage of this amazing offering! It is a great chance for math students to meet with industry professionals as well as an excellent way to get recruited for internships and entry level positions.

Apart from the big events in Edinburgh and Glasgow, there will be fringe events happening throughout the country too to ensure maximum impact. These fringe events are a celebration of all things data and data science. There will be a fringe event in Dundee which invites students from St Andrews, Dundee, and Aberdeen.  

Furthermore, St Andrews will be hosting an event: ParaFormance: Multi-Core Software Engineering Techniques for Making Data Analytics Faster. While Professor Quigley will unfortunately be unable attend due to prior travel arrangements, he does note that tickets and ‘some type of steaming’ should be available. The Professor describes the show as, “showcasing research from the School of Computer Science on next generation programming language support”. Additionally, he notes that this discussion will be highly interesting as “the tools ParaFormance offer can accelerate systems dramatically”.

Professor Quigley will be traveling to Japan and China to meet with companies who are interested in commercialising his HCI, wearable and radar based technologies”. This trip builds upon the work that helped Professor Quigley to stand out to the organizers of DataFest, and qualified him as a Data Warrior.

Data warriors are key figures within the data community in Scotland who are championing data within their everyday roles. These figures include a High School teacher from Dundee, and St Andrews’ own Professor Quigley. Professor Quigley was chosen thanks to both his work in the field and in establishing The Data Lab, the organisation behind DataFest. On being chosen for this prestigious position Professor Quigley responded, “I was honoured to be described as a DataWarrior by the organisers.”

Professor Quigley’s Data Lab was an innovative breakthrough in the area of data science. He relayed, “I was the lead academic in the creation of the Data Lab. The idea for this innovation centre came out of a prior proposal for an innovation centre from St Andrews”. Despite this mammoth achievement, Professor Quigley is quick to share credit. He says, “The Data Lab describes me as ‘a founding father of the DataLab’, but honestly there were many founding fathers and mothers. As the SICSA director for knowledge exchange I was pleased to have been able to bring the Data Lab into existence for the benefit of everyone in Scotland”.

As the Data Lab is intrinsically linked to DataFest, Professor Quigley’s role as a Data Warrior is natural. Explaining the connection between the various achievements, organizations, and titles Professor Quigley states, “The DataFest event honours what they term Data Warriors. The DataFest event is organised by the DataLab”.

While the concept of data might seem overwhelming to some humanities students, Professor Quigley’s overview of his work might help make sense of this jumble. The Professor has been researching and developing systems which visualise and help us analyse voluminous amounts of data for the past 25 years. He says, “These approaches have been commercialised into new spinouts in Ireland and Australia”. This data compilation is comparable to how our ASOS shopping patterns and Starbucks orders are data, saved, sold, and turned to profit.

Furthermore, Professor Quigley discusses how his work has been taken on by multinational, fortune 500 companies. Professor Quigley has been based in or worked with companies including Intel, IBM and Mitsubishi which has resulted in new data driven solutions for design and developments.

Underpinning the importance of data, Professor Quigley says, “There are many fields which underpin the use of data across science, medicine and the humanities but it’s the field of Human Computer Interaction which truly unlocks the potential of data driven interaction for all.”

Professor Quigley’s sentiments on the power of data go hand in hand with DataFest focus of data driven information. Data driven information is an important topic to highlight, as it informs the way the world gains information, and because of data’s paramount importance to all aspects of life. Furthermore, the data industry is crucial to modern society, and continuously expanding.

Professor Quigley is enthused about DataFests’ mission of celebrating data. On why data is so important, Professor Quigley states, “Every branch of human knowledge creates and consumes data. We have been documenting and storing data since our species first learned to write.”

However, in our post-industrialized, technology obsessed, information driven society, data takes on an even more important role. Professor Quigley asserts, “What is different now is the scale and access to digital tools to allow us to produce and consume large amount of digital data. The benefits stem from our ability to use this data to help solve problems or identify issues which we can address together.”

Building on last year’s success, DataFest 2018 is looking to expand and reach a wider audience and demographic.

This year, DataFest is set to take place from March 19-23 and is expecting to reach over 750,000 people, an enormous audience considering Scotland’s population of just over 5 million. A few hundred of those alone will be attending the events in Edinburgh. Indeed, this month is sure to host one of the biggest global compilations of data experts in the city.

Remember, “In God we trust; all others must bring data.”


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