Noting the impact of IDSS | MIT News

The “interdisciplinary approach” is something that has been praised for decades for its ability to break down silos and create new integrated approaches to research.

For Münter Dahleh, founding director of the MIT Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS), showing the public that data science and statistics can transcend individual disciplines and form a new holistic approach to tackling complex societal challenges is critical to the institute. good luck

“It was important from the beginning that we recognize the fields of data science, statistics, artificial intelligence and somehow computing as transdisciplinary,” says Daleh, who is the William A. Coolidge Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Science. “We have mentioned that point again and again. these are areas that are invested in your industry. It is not ours. this organization is here for everyone.”

On April 14-15, researchers from across MIT and beyond came together to celebrate the achievements and impact IDSS has had on research and education since its inception in 2015. Engaged at IDSS’s annual statistics and data science conference SDSCon, the celebration also doubled. As a way to recognize Dahle for her work in creating and implementing the vision for IDSS as she prepares to step down as director this summer.

In addition to talks and panels on statistics and computing, intelligent systems, automation and artificial intelligence, conference participants discussed issues ranging from climate change, healthcare and disinformation. Nobel Laureate and IDSS Affiliate Professor Esther Duflo talked about large-scale immunization efforts, former MLK Visiting Professor Craig Watkins joined in on issues of fairness and justice in Artificial Intelligence, and IDSS Associate Director Alberto Abadi discussed synthetic surveillance for policy evaluation. Other policy issues were explored through lightning talks, including by students from the Technology and Policy Program (TPP) within IDSS.

A place to call home

The list of IDSS accomplishments over the past eight years is long and growing. From creating a home for 21St century statistics at MIT after other failed attempts to create a new graduate program that prepares a trilingual student who is an expert in data science and social science in a domain context to play a key role in determining an effective process for Covid testing. In the early days of the epidemic, IDSS left its mark on MIT. IDSS recently pioneered the use of big data to help drive structural and normative change toward racial equity, and will continue to examine societal challenges through the lenses of statistics, social science, and science and engineering.

“I’m very proud of what we’ve done and all the people who contributed to it. The management team has been phenomenal in their commitment and creativity,” says Daleh. “I always say, it doesn’t take one person, it takes a village to do what we do, and I’m very proud of that.”

Before creating the institute, Dahle and others at MIT came together to answer one important question. How will MIT prepare for the future of systems and data?

“Data science is a complex field because in some ways it is everywhere and belongs to everyone, like statistics and artificial intelligence,” says Daleh. all”. The response the team came back with was building an institute. a department that could cross all other departments and schools.

While Dahle and the committee members were creating this blueprint for the future, the events that would lead to an early IDSS team like Caroline Uhler were also beginning to take shape. Uhler, now a professor of computer science at MIT and co-director of the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Center at the Broad Institute, was part of the celebration, discussing statistics and human health.

In 2015, Uhler was a faculty member at the Austrian Institute of Science and Technology who wanted to return to the US. not related to my degree,” says Uhler. “What really brought me to MIT was Muenther’s vision to build modern statistics and the unique opportunity to be a part of what statistics needs to move forward.”

The breadth of the Statistics and Data Science Center has given it a unique and robust character that creates an attractive collaborative environment at MIT. “The big impact of IDSS has been giving people like me a home,” Uhler adds. “By building a statistics institute that would be in every school instead of being housed in one department, it created a home for anyone interested in the field.”

Filling the gap

For former IDSS deputy director and another early IDSS recruit, Ali Jadbabai, being in the right place at the right time put him at the center of it all. A control theory expert and trained network scientist, Jadbabaye first came to MIT while on sabbatical from a professorship at the University of Pennsylvania.

“My time at MIT coincided with the early discussions about the creation of the IDSS, and given my experience, they asked me to stay and help create it,” Jadbabaye says. He is now the chair of MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and at the celebration he spoke about the new MIT major in climate systems science and engineering.

A key early achievement of IDSS was the creation of a doctoral program in social and engineering systems (SES), which aims to educate and promote the success of a new type of graduate student, Jadbabaye says.

“We realized that we had an opportunity to educate a new breed of graduate student who knew the mathematics of information science and statistics, in addition to the areas where the problems are happening — infrastructure, climate, political polarization,” he says. . “This program will provide training in statistics and data science, mathematics of information science, and a branch of social science appropriate to their domain.”

“SES has filled the gap,” Jadbabaye adds. “We wanted to bring quantitative reasoning to social science fields, particularly as they interact with complex engineering systems.”

“My first year at MIT really expanded my horizons in terms of what was available and interesting,” says Mansi Wu, a member of the first cohort of students in the SES program after starting in the Master of Transportation (MST) program. . “My advisor introduced me to a number of interesting topics at the intersection of game theory, economics, and engineering systems, and in my sophomore year I realized that my interest was really in social-scale systems, with transportation being my main application area. when I think about how I can make an impact in the real world.”

Wu, now an assistant professor in Cornell’s School of Operations Research and Information Engineering, was a panelist at the Celebration session on Intelligent Infrastructure Systems. The beauty of the SES program, he says, is that he can build common ground between groups of students and researchers who all have different applied interests but share a desire to sharpen their technical skills.

“While we may be working on many different application areas, core methodologies such as mathematical tools in data science and probability optimization create a common language,” says Wu. “We are all capable of speaking the technical language, and our diverse interests give us even more to speak.”

In addition to the PhD program, IDSS has helped bring quality MIT programming to people around the world with its MicroMasters program in Statistics and Data Science (SDS), which recently saw the certification of more than 1,000 learners. MicroMasters is just one offering in the newly launched IDSSx, a collection of online learning opportunities for learners of various skill and interest levels.

“The impact of the MIT-IDSS branding worldwide has been great,” says Daleh. “In addition, we’ve created smaller online programs for continuing education in data science and machine learning, which I think is also important to educate the general community.”

hopes for the future

With all its achievements, IDSS’ core mission has never changed.

“The belief has always been to create an institute focused on how data science can be used to solve pressing social problems,” says Daleh. “IDSS’s organizational structure as an MIT Institute has enabled it to promote data and systems as an interdisciplinary area embedded in every domain to support its mission. This reverse ownership structure will continue to strengthen IDSS’s presence at MIT and make it a core unit of the Schwarzman College of Computing.”

As Dahle prepares to step down and Professor Martin Wainwright prepares to fill his (very large) shoes as director, Dahle’s colleagues say the real key to IDSS’s success all started with his passion and vision.

“Creating a new academic unit within MIT is actually almost impossible,” Jadbabaye says. “It requires structural changes, as well as someone who has a good understanding of multiple areas, who knows how to get people to work together and who has a mission.”

“The most important thing is that he was inclusive,” he adds. “He didn’t try to put a gate around it and say these people are in and people aren’t. I don’t think this would have ever happened without Munter at the helm.”

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