Festivals, Cultural and City Events

Science Festival interview with David Richardson

David Richardson, Senior Business Development Executive in the School of Informatics, took part in 'Big Solutions in Big Data', held at 5.30pm on Thursday 16 April at Summerhall.

What can people coming along to your event expect to experience?

We will be talking about the way in which big data and data science is changing the way that we live our lives.

Working with big data has all manner of benefits, from enabling better understanding of human behaviour, to pushing the boundaries of scientific research, and supporting industry.

We’ll also take a look at the risks of working with data on this scale, and the need for safeguarding sensitive information.

What do you hope that the audience can get out of coming along?

We hope to give the audience a sense of scale of the data being produced in today’s internet age, and the challenges of managing it.

Data can take many forms, from the unstructured information on social media, to high-frequency sensor information captured by industrial systems.

Capturing and making sense of this offers an opportunity for businesses and could have all kinds of benefits for society. But it’s a challenge for computer scientists, because data is typically large and complex, and needs new tools and technologies to enable it to be managed properly.

What impact does this area of research have on society?

Many companies in Scotland are making use of big data to improve their products, with benefits for the end user.

Skyscanner, the Edinburgh-based flight search website, is on track to become the number one travel search site in the world. Aridhia, also in Edinburgh, is using data science to improve management of chronic diseases.

Many companies such as Amazon, Facebook and Google are household names when it comes to big data. The US is ahead of the field in adopting the big data approach, with Europe catching up. We need more Scottish firms to make use of this competitive advantage.

There are also job opportunities. We expect a significant demand for data scientists as the sector grows, and we plan to deliver a range of skills and training courses to equip those already in industry, and train the next generation of data scientist graduates.

Why is taking part in the science festival important to you?

I hope the event will demonstrate how important data is for the economy and the opportunity it offers.

Also, there are some negative perceptions held by the general public of how personal data is used, so I hope the event will allow for a dialogue to address some of these concerns, and perhaps convince sceptics that if big data is used correctly, it is safe and worthwhile.

What do you hope to get out of engaging with the public?

Data science is really a team sport and in order to get the most out of big data we need a multidisciplinary approach that includes a broad range of skills.

Everyone has a part to play in this process as we all create, collect and consume data in our daily lives.