NYU has established an Initiative in Data Science and Statistics that aims to harness today’s torrent of data in order to make advances in medicine, science, technology, business, and a range of other fields. The university-wide effort will include the creation of a Center for Data Science and graduate-degree programs in this emerging academic discipline.

“Data science is becoming a necessary tool to answer some of the big scientific questions and technological challenges of our times,” explains Gerard Ben Arous, director of NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, which will house the Center for Data Science and a master’s degree program in the subject.

“By making better use of the enormous amount of readily available data, we will be better equipped to address a range of vital questions,” says Yann LeCun, director of the new center, which will explore: how the brain works, how we can build intelligent machines, what is the structure of the universe, how we can cure diseases, and how we can predict human behavior.

Data science—using automated methods to analyze massive amounts of data and extract knowledge from them—is a set of methods that is becoming core to many areas of business, science, engineering, and government. Last year, the White House announced a multi-agency initiative in “big data” that aims to speed the pace of discovery in science and engineering, strengthen national security, and transform teaching and learning. A growing number of companies—including those in the New York City area such as IBM, AT&T, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft—are driven by data science, along with pharmaceutical, financial, insurance, and media industries, as well as Web companies such as Bitly, Etsy, Foursquare, and Twitter.

At the same time, there is a growing and largely unfulfilled demand in industry for data scientists. The United States faces a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with analytical expertise and 1.5 million managers and analysts with the skills to understand and make decisions based on the analysis of big data, McKinsey & Company reported in 2011. While some of today’s data are readily interpretable by machines, much of it is unstructured material captured from the real world: sensors from scientific experiments, pictures, and videos from the Web, Web usage data, location data from smartphones, and customer data from e-commerce websites, to name just a few.

NYU’s Initiative in Data Science and Statistics marks a response to the field’s growing demands by establishing a research center and a master’s program that will train future practitioners and scholars. The Center for Data Science will be composed of faculty from across the university, and its work will not only include means to better manage the growth of data, but also seek to exploit it in ways that can yield an array of social and economic benefits.

The two-year master’s program began accepting applications in February and will commence this fall. NYU also plans to establish a doctoral program in the field.

For more on the initiative and the educational programs, go to nyu.edu/datascience; for more on the center, go to cds.nyu.edu.

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