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Lab to harness the power of big data

Lab to harness the power of big data

“A picture of the future” – that’s how Professor Alex “Sandy” Pentland of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) describes the university’s prestigious Living Lab, which is set to have its fourth global location at Lot Fourteen.

He says Living Lab South Australia has been created to demonstrate how the power of big data can be harnessed to solve challenges facing governments, business and communities.

“There are all these data sources in different places – banks, hospitals, telecommunications companies, and government of course. If you could somehow put them all together you would get a much better sense of the health of a city, of the jobs, where people spend, where they work. What are the conditions that lead to sickness, what are the ones that lead to health?

“The Living Lab is taking this data and asking: how are we doing? Where could we do better?

“In the future, 10 or 20 years from now, that’s going to be fairly common but right now, people don’t know how to do that.”

MIT, the world’s highest ranked university, announced in July that Lot Fourteen would become the fourth global location for its prestigious Living Lab and the first in the southern hemisphere, joining existing sites in New York, Beijing, and Istanbul.

The State Government of South Australia has entered into an agreement with MIT to develop the lab, which is supported by principal partner BankSA and technology partner Optus Business. 

Mobility intelligence company, DSpark, will also play an important role in the technical capability of the Living Lab South Australia, fitting out the site and providing key inputs into the work being undertaken.

The lab will bring together the public, private and research sectors, analysing data to determine the most effective ways for South Australia to drive both economic and sustainable population growth.

Professor Pentland said the information which would be utilized by the lab could be described as “rich census data”.

“Instead of how many people live here, it’s how many people live here and where do they tend to work. If you know that, now you begin to where to put the bus lines, if you know where they shop, that tells you where new stores need to go.

“For example, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, we found that the parts of the city with stubborn unemployment were the places not well served by public transport and we saw that in Boston and in other places. Professor Pentland said.

“In London we found that where you had a neighbourhood where visitors stopped coming, it would often have crime in the next couple of months. That can be an early warning system.”

Professor Pentland said a key focus of the Living Lab at Lot Fourteen would be to get young people involved.

“Data science is meant to be the sexy new field of the future and it’s true. Everything is now revolving around data and data analytics,” he said.

“We hope to have people come to MIT, we hope to have lots of students involved, we hope to have lots of spin-offs that come out of this to invigorate the community.”

Speaking during his visit to Adelaide in July, Professor Pentland described Lot Fourteen as the ideal location for the Living Lab.

“One of the distinctive things is that you have been able to put together here is government and all the major players in one place to really do something,” he said.

“Most places that we go and look at don’t have that level of cooperation and synergy, so that’s extremely helpful. I think that’s a mark that this could be really successful.

“It’s great that it’s right in the middle of all the things that you want to bring together – the Australian Space Agency, the Australian Institute of Machine Learning, the universities, investment all of that is part of building a new vibrant ecosystem.

“It’s a place that looks poised to grow. It’s got the right sort of conditions, it’s got a global environment that’s very positive, so we’re happy to be here,” Professor Pentland said.

Listen to Professor Pentland being interviewed here.

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