This Week in Data #4

My thoughts on what’s timely, interesting or quirky in the world of data. If you’d like to receive this in your inbox every week, subscribe here.

Kick Off

A computer beat one of the world’s top players at the Chinese game Go for the first time. It’s a moment, at least for some of us, on par with Gary Kasparov losing to a computer at chess twenty years ago. It’s exciting because it marks a big moment in deep learning and it was enabled by GPUs, a type of hardware that was originally developed for video games but that is now becoming a crucial part of the data-science pipeline. I wrote an essay about why the Go-crushing computer matters. Check it out on Medium.

In the News

Even as some parts of the technology industry are seeming to slow down, there’s still a lot of demand for people with expertise in running data in the cloud. The New York Times ran a good story on the slew of jobs available to people with this expertise. Not surprisingly, colleges are starting to offer classes and even majors focusing on data analysis and all the technology surrounding it.

Palantir is probably the most famous data analytics company out there today. Fortune Magazine just posted a big profile on them. Given Apple’s battle with the Department of Justice over access to a terrorist’s cell phone data, it’s an interesting time to read about Palantir. The firm, now valued around $20 billion, got its start helping the government mine data (and it still does a lot of that). In other words, Palantir may be the party called on to work with the data from the terrorist’s iPhone. Palantir is certainly not as established as Apple, but keep an eye on how this data company comes out in the public debate over civil liberties and government protection. Palantir’s incentives are different from Apple’s.

In Industry

Data breaches remain a concern. This week Home Depot agreed to pay a $19.5 million fine for a 2014 data breach. I also enjoyed this PCWorld story on Quantum computing, which talks about the risks to national security through data breaches. “If you are a nation state, you probably don’t want to publicly store your secrets using encryption that relies on factoring as a hard-to-invert problem,” it says. “Because when these quantum computers start coming out, [adversaries will] be able to go back and unencrypt all those old secrets.”

Hedge funds are increasingly looked to the tech industry for talent. This week, the giant fund manager Bridgewater Associates named a former senior executive from Apple as its new co-C.E.O. This got my attention because I’ve been talking with hedge fund clients lately about how to inject more tech D.N.A. into their shops, something I wrote about here.

Separately, sports is becoming a new area for creative data analysis. As a biker and climber, I enjoyed this story on how data might be used to diagnose sports injuries.

Quirky Corner

Computers have been around a long time now and this fun post takes you down memory lane. Who knew you could store data by sending shockwaves down a tube of mercury? Enjoy…

And, last, a great essay on some of the effects of technology in our lives. It says we are being slowly sidelined by computers. See if you agree.

What’s happening at Ufora

I will be in the Bay Area next week catching up with clients and other folks. If you’d like to meet up for coffee, drop me a line.

Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend!