Ask a Theoretical Physicist: The Science of Data
In the universe of data science and analytics, data has become as ubiquitous as air. It surrounds us and impacts our everyday lives, whether we are conscious of it or not. Recently, we sat down with theoretical physicist Dr. Michio Kaku, one of the most widely recognized figures in science in the world today, to discuss his theories on the future of data science.
“We have learned more about the brain in the last fifteen years than in all prior human history, and the mind, once considered out of reach, is finally assuming center stage.” A ponderance akin to the prospective found in modern analytics.
—Dr. Michio Kaku
What role has data played in your work and how has it evolved over time?
Data is the lifeblood of any science. Just rattle off a list of them and you can see why data is so important. For example, in aeronautics, people want to revive the supersonic transport, but we had one in the Concorde, but the Concorde created a Sonic boom. It shattered windows. Nobody wanted the Concorde flying overhead. The Concorde was financially troubled because it could not fly across the United States, for example.
As Big Data only gets bigger and the universe of analytics expands to allow anyone to be a data savant, we continue to see people take on professions they otherwise may not have fit into in the past.
Data science is inherently complex, but still accessible, understandable, and achievable to those not classically trained. Those who change careers or become "citizen data scientists" often have deep expertise in another field which means they bring the right questions to the table, and data democratization enables them to answer those questions.
What advice would you share with those explaining complex concepts in a way that is accessible?
Data is going to be the lifeblood and the energy source of modern civilization. And we can’t drown in data. We have to be able to explain it to the public why data is so important and why it's going to fuel the revolutions of the future. We’ll need to explain why data is just like oil was the lifeblood of the previous revolutions. Data will be the lifeblood of the next revolutions coupled with artificial intelligence, big data, analytics, and all the concepts we’ve come to associate with data. We're going to be able to digitize society.
Every aspect of society is going to be turned upside down by data. Any industry, any scientific discipline, will be digitized and analyzed by analytics and artificial intelligence. We have to be able to explain this to the average person because they're going to benefit from it.
Aha moments are quite thrilling for those who are using analytics to make a real impact. Can you describe your process or some of your techniques for coming to some of your own aha moments?
Sometimes we can know too much. You think you know something so well that when something deviates from your common sense, you say, “ah, can't be right. It must be wrong.” And you close yourself off from out-of-the-box ideas, which may have the final solution to the problem.
Is there a process you adopt to acknowledge that oddball idea?
That’s what separates the great scientist from the grand scientists who are not so great. The great scientist can see patterns that other scientists cannot see. Artificial intelligence tries to use computers to find patterns, but many times humans are better at finding patterns than robots. Robots tend to be very conservative. Humans can make leaps of logic and sometimes that's required to find that aha moment that makes everything work.
"Analytics allows us to explore areas that we once thought were out of reach. Look at, for example, my field, physics, the large Hadron Collider generates enormous quantities of data, tremendous quantities of data, every time we smash protons apart. Analytics allows us to analyze this mountain of data. It accesses areas of physics that we thought were out of reach because it was just computationally too difficult."