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The World’s 7 Most Powerful Data Scientists

Tim O’Reilly, founder of O’Reilly Media and highly regarded technology trend watcher and good idea amplifier, wrote a short piece for Forbes on the topic of the “World’s Most Powerful Data Scientists.” He also provided some amplifying information in a piece on Google+. This post captures the gist of both of those, since Tim’s list is well thought out and insightful. I absolutely strongly endorse most of what he wrote and most of the names he picks: Tim is so very well connected and so very smart it is hard to argue. But as a guy who likes to think for myself I have to tell you one of the names on the list had me scratching my head wondering if Tim has been under the influence of someone’s political talking points. Tim faced a real challenge in coming up with his list and I don’t want to criticize, but I wonder about a few he left off the list as well. One of the great’s, for example, is Jeff Jonas. Jeff is non-stop-action when it comes to data and how to make it relevant to users and how to make data find the right data and the relevance find the user that needs it. And he has been at it for years. There are others as well, like Barney Pell, and Danny Hillis, and who knows how many others that seem worthy of being on a list like this.

But Tim had to build a list and I’m glad he did, I like his writing style and his ideas. Here is his list:

  • Larry Page
  • Jeff Hammerbacher and DJ Patil
  • Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig
  • Elizabeth Warren
  • Todd Park
  • Sandy Pentland
  • Hod Lipson and Michael Schmidt

And here is a bit more from his Forbes piece:

Larry Page: Google, more than any other company, has pushed the boundaries of what is possible with big data. Along with Sergey Brin, he built the search engine that tamed the web, solved the problem posed by John Wanamaker a century ago (“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”). And in his quest to provide access to all the world’s information, he has accumulated the largest database on the planet.

Jeff Hammerbacher and DJ Patil: Hammerbacher and Patil coined the term “data scientist.” Now it’s Silicon Valley’s hottest job title. These two built the first formal data science teams at Facebook and LinkedIn, respectively. Now at Cloudera, Hammerbacher has been key to driving the success of Hadoop as a standard tool for processing large, unstructured data sets with a network of commodity computers. As Data Scientist in Residence at Greylock, Patil is seeking out the next generation of hot data-driven startups.

Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig: When Thrun and Norvig decided to teach their Stanford course, Introduction to Artificial Intelligence, over the internet, they managed to sign up over 140,000 students and proved that AI is no longer just an academic subject. Norvig is Google’s chief scientist. Thrun is leading Google’s efforts to build a self-driving car that relies on AI algorithms and the memory of hundreds of thousands of miles driven by Google’s street view vehicles, recording and measuring everything they saw.

Elizabeth Warren: The banking system excesses that led to the economic crash of 2008 are an example of big data gone wrong. As the provisional head of the Consumer FinanceProtection Bureau, Elizabeth Warren began the job of building the algorithmic checks and balances needed to counter the sorcerer’s apprentices of Wall Street. In her campaign for the US Senate, she promises to continue that fight.

Todd Park: Park is leading the charge to transform American healthcare into a data driven business. From medical diagnostics to insurance reimbursement to community health statistics, he is finding ways to use data to make healthcare more effective and affordable.

Sandy Pentland: Sandy is not only a wide-ranging polymath, he’s providing the intellectual leadership on how sensors, the internet of things, geolocation and promiscuous connectivity can be used to uncover insights regarding human behavior. Sandy is also looking at privacy – an important adjunct to the data space – and helping develop the conversation regarding the trade-offs between privacy and the value of personal data.

Hod Lipson and Michael Schmidt: Cornell computer scientists Hod Lipson and Michael Schmidt created an AI program that could distill the laws of motion merely by observing data from theswings of a pendulum. In the process, they kicked off the field of robotic science in which AIs try to derive meaning from datasets too large or complex for humans to study.

A note about the above:

Did you notice, there are ten names on his list of the top seven? Interesting isn’t it. I guess that is why Tim would not be a good data scientist! Ha! Just kidding Tim!

My personal thoughts:

Jeff Hammerbacher is truly everything Tim said and I know for a fact he continues to change the world in very positive ways. I’ve also seen Todd Park in action and noticed the incredible positive changes he has but in motion. And having met Sandy Pentland and read his works I’m convinced he is one of the great’s as well. I really haven’t met the others on the list but of course we all know about Larry Page’s contributions. Tim got it so right with those names, I have to give him the benefit of the doubt on the others. But Elizabeth Warren? Data Scientist? Well, guess I better keep an open mind.

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