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One year on, Institute for Data, Systems, and Society looks ahead

Event and new IDSS projects will provide insights into some of society's most pressing data challenges.
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Throughout our daily lives, we leave a trail of data wherever we go. Every social media post, purchase, online review, cell tower ping, and health record reveals information about ourselves and our decisions that, if analyzed and modeled effectively, could lead to the creation of better systems, technologies, and policies — in short, a better society.

Officially launched in July 2015, the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS) spans all five schools at MIT, bringing together engineers, mathematicians, economists, social scientists, and policy experts to develop and enhance the ways data is used to derive insights and decisions around some of the most important challenges of today.

"From energy to finance to healthcare, our society depends on massively complex, data-rich systems," says MIT President L. Rafael Reif. "Increasingly, the answers to society's most serious challenges lie in the ability to extract from these vast data sets new patterns, new pathways, and new solutions. By bringing together outstanding talent from different disciplines, MIT's Institute for Data, Systems, and Society is developing novel approaches to these urgent problems, while educating new generations to use advanced systems thinking to make a better world.”

This week, IDSS celebrates it inaugural year — and looks to the future — with an event Sept. 22-23, bringing together experts from across a variety of domains. A full list of speakers and agenda items can be found on the event website:

In addition, IDSS is rolling out a number of new developments, including: the online course “Data Science: Data to Insights,” created with MIT Professional Education; a newly launched statistics and data science minor; a Social and Engineering Systems PhD (with the first cohort beginning this semester); and a new, state-of-the art data visualization lab. In its efforts to use data science to drive positive change, IDSS is also collaborating with founding industry members Booz Allen Hamilton, Thomson Reuters, and WorldQuant.

“IDSS recognizes that society’s greatest challenges will not be solved by focusing on academic silos,” says IDSS Director Munther Dahleh, the William A. Coolidge Professor in the MIT Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “We need to collaborate effectively across disciplines and invent new methodologies to best utilize the large amounts of available data and to create actionable models that will enable addressing these challenges.”

“LIDS [the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems] is thrilled to be a core part of IDSS,” says Asu Ozdaglar, the Joseph F. and Nancy P. Keithley Professor in Electrical Engineering and an associate director of IDSS. “Our rich history of foundational research allows us to view complex problems through the lens of information and decision sciences, contributing a deep understanding of the tradeoffs between efficiency and risk, resilience, and limits of performance in building robust yet flexible models of the systems that shape society.”

IDSS aims to advance education and research at the intersection of statistics, data science, information and decision systems, and social sciences. IDSS research takes holistic, data-driven approaches to solving problems across a wide range of application domainsincluding, in particular, energy systems, finance, health analytics, social networks, and urbanization.

“IDSS brings together data science, information and decision systems, and social sciences and connects to engineering domains. This is the creation of a new academic discipline,” says Ali Jadbabaie, an associate director of IDSS, director of the MIT Sociotechnical Systems Research Center, and the JR East Professor of Engineering. “Innovation is in MIT’s DNA. Today’s major challenges across domains mandate us to combine interdisciplinary efforts in a rigorous way.”

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