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How are you using your big data research in the real world?

Published January 2015

Big data is a major area of interest for businesses, government and researchers at the University of Warwick work with both to provide the research that underpins some of the decisions and products that politicians and business leaders are developing today. Did you hear about the researcher who predicted the 2010 election result so accurately that MPs were asking questions about it in Parliament? He’s based at Warwick and he’s not alone in developing research that has real world applications today.
Cityscape1. We’re helping to make ATMs better

“I worked, and still do work, with National Cash Registers (NCR) – they’re the largest manufacturer of automated teller machines (ATMs). About ten years ago they came to me and asked for help in developing technology to identify deposited bank notes that were fraudulent. It’s very much a statistical problem; you get a bank note, you take a number of measurements and then you come up with a representation, or score, that allows the machine to decide if this is a counterfeit or a genuine bank note.

“These ATMs are being used 24 hours a day, 365 days a week, all over the world. The research team and I had to be smart in developing the algorithms so they would scale and so they wouldn’t require special hardware as this would increase the cost of the ATMs. We published a few papers on the solutions we developed, international patents were awarded and one of my post-doctoral students, who had worked on the problem with me, went on to work for NCR to help develop the technology that could be embedded in an ATM. So, the latest generation of ATMs we have now, actually have the results of our work in them.”

Professor Mark Girolami, Department of Statistics and Director of CRiSM (Centre for Research in Statistical Methodology)

2. We’re helping to make city life more bearable

“I’m currently working on a big data project in New York where we’re sensing people’s emotions using their mobile phones, viewing how their emotions fluctuate as they move around a city and then making augmentations to the city based on how they feel. We’re looking not just at the physical space of the city, such as the architecture, but also the digital space within a city – are people well connected, do they have good bandwidth, can they access and share information at a speed that is acceptable to the pace of their life?”

Dr Weisi Guo, School of Engineering

3. We’re working with Westminster

“I’ve been asked to give a session on big data, in relation to policy, at Westminster and I’ve been part of the Parliament Office Science and Technology (POST) policy briefings.”

Associate Professor Emma Uprichard, Centre For Interdisciplinary Methodologies and Director of the Warwick Q-Step Centre.

4. We’re helping hospitals track down infections

“We’ve recently been analysing the source of an outbreak in a hospital in Birmingham. Sometimes, if patients are on the same ward, you can use intuition and surmise that the patients have cross-infected each other but sometimes, as in this case, you’ll find patients are not on the same ward; you’ll look at the genome of the infection and sometimes they’re very closely related, or are identical, and you’re then asking how has that happened? In the Birmingham case, we traced it back to a specific operating theatre.”

“I’ve also been looking at historical samples of tuberculosis (TB) and we’ve been looking at 200 year old mummified samples from a church in Hungary. We’ve been able to get TB genome sequences from those. Having the ability to date a TB genome gives us the opportunity to ask how much has the bacterium changed over time and it gives us a clue as to how TB as we know it has evolved.”

Professor Mark Pallen, Warwick Medical School and Head of the UK CLIMB Consortium (Cloud Infrastructure for Microbial Bioinformatics)

5. We’re #superexcited about twins and twitter

“I’m leading a team tracking 3,000 twins on twitter to understand if we can use what they’re tweeting about to assess their mental health. We’ve downloaded more than four million tweets to date. Usually social media studies are done for convenience and you don’t know much about the people you’re observing. This study is different and we have more than 20 years’ worth of data on the twins. Twins on twitter is trying to understand why people behave the way they do on social media, what influences the connections that they make or the people that they follow.”

Dr Claire Haworth, Psychology

A number of financial institutions have shown interest in our stock-market findings...

6. We’re working with the US Government and American businesses too

“Suzy Moat and I published two big data stock-market related papers last year, one using Google and one using Wikipedia and these showed the relation between their usage and stock market movements. A number of financial institutions, including Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs and some leading hedge funds in New York have shown an interest in those findings. We’re also co-developing some solutions around human behaviour and publically available data with funding from the US government’s research agency IARPA .”

Tobias Preis, Associate Professor of Behavioural Science & Finance at Warwick Business School

7. We’re influencing how big data develops

“A lot of the work around big data is around how do we build a big enough computer system that can handle it all but another valid question is can we summarise the data? Can we reduce its size into a smaller representation that still lets us pose questions and receive meaningful answers?

“One approach is sketches and I’ve worked on building algorithm that perform this sketching process, taking big data and making it much smaller. These sketches have found application in a number of companies. AT&T, where I worked for a long time, uses sketch ideas to track summary information about what’s going on in their network, where are the spikes happening; it’s part of their network monitoring infrastructure. Because these sketch ideas are quite general in what they’re trying to capture, they’ve ended up being used in quite a number of other places. Last year Twitter released a new real-time related query suggestion architecture system, in the vein of Hadoop, to allow large scale computation of statistics and within that system they implemented those sketch ideas I helped develop. I’ve heard both Yahoo and Google use them in monitoring their log queries.”

Professor Graham Cormode, Department of Computer Science


Image: City Night Colors - San Francisco by David Yu (via Flickr)