The Alan Turing Institute: Making great leaps in data science for the common good by Shana Tufail

The Alan Turing Institute is the UK’s newly-created national institute for data science. We recently launched our first academic year with over 100 researchers in computer science, mathematics, statistics, social sciences and software engineering coming together under the mission to “make great leaps in data science research to change the world for the better”.

In today’s super-fast, super connected digital world, the data we are generating holds great value for the economy, society and our lives. It requires intensive collaborative research to help make sense of the incredible amount of data we are amassing, which is where data science comes in.

Data science is the grounding science behind data analytics and brings together various disciplines from mathematics and computing science to social sciences and software engineering, with industry expertise, to allows scientists to mine and interpret large sets of data.

Through meshing theory, methodologies and asking the right questions, the idea behind data science is that we can find ways to harness and unlock the potential within massive data streams to make predictions, gain insight into human behaviour and find patterns to better inform the way we live and work.

This video, capturing the views of a number of our researchers, and government and industry partners, is a helpful intro:

Industry is working hard to keep pace with data science innovation; in 2012 Harvard Business Review positioned data science, as “The Sexiest Job of the 21st Century”, and recent studies and investments have highlighted the importance of data science for the economy. According to the study, “Worldwide Big Data Technology and Services, 2012–2015 Forecast”, conducted by IDC, big data technology and services are expected to grow worldwide at a compound annual growth rate of 40% – about seven times that of the ICT market overall.

Research at the Turing varies from the latest theoretical developments – creating new techniques and breakthroughs to understanding data, for example detecting anomalies – to creating research which can be applied to real-world services.

We’re working with industry partners such as HSBC, Intel, GCHQ and Lloyd’s Register Foundation, and we recently committed to working with the Office of National Statistics to explore how we can drive research into public data. Over time we’ll expand our network, with the goal to act as a convening power for any academic and industry organisations interested in big data and algorithms.

An example of this in action is the Data Study Group we hosted this month with Lloyd’s Register Foundation, which linked up researchers with data sets from major industry players including Airbus, Siemens and the National Grid among others.

Training is also very important: “Big Data Analytics: An assessment of demand for labour and skills, 2012-2017”, conducted by e-skills UK and SAS, predicts that in the UK alone, the number of big data staff specialists working in large firms will increase by more than 240% over the next five years. One of the aims of The Alan Turing Institute is to train the next generation of data scientists; so far we have more than 40 doctoral students full-time at the Institute, and our data science masterclasses are available for everyone online. As the national institute for data science, it’s also important that we take a leadership role, shaping the public conversation around data and advising industry and government.  As more of our lives become digitally connected, issues around privacy, security and ethics become ever more important, and research into data ethics, social data science and privacy will be a significant area of research for the Turing Institute.

Being located within the British Library, at the heart of London’s Knowledge Quarter, means the Institute is a stone’s throw from key players in tech, biomedicine, education and culture – from the British Library itself, which has extraordinary digital assets, to The Francis Crick Institute, to the new Google headquarters, Wellcome Trust and many others. Being a part of this valuable network opens opportunities and potential for collaboration across sectors, and creates the perfect environment for research, serendipity and shared impact.

At the Turing, we value openness, collaboration and partnerships. We think they will be key to establishing the UK as a global leader and opening up opportunities for business and society.

We encourage all Knowledge Quarter partners to come along to the Turing Institute’s workshops or events to find out what we’re about. You can also join us as a Research Fellow, Visiting Researcher – or even data scientist. We aspire to spark ideas across the Knowledge Quarter, stimulate productive dialogue across the UK and beyond and capture the imagination and interest of the public as we do it. Everyone has a part to play and we are just getting started.

Guest Blog by Shana Tufail,  Communications and Marketing Manager at The Alan Turing Institute.

Images credited @ John Barlow