Data is King and The King is Capricious

Vesa Muhonen, Senior Data Scientist

Armed with a PhD in cosmology, the science that studies the general structure and evolution of the universe, he left Finland for Amsterdam… and was sold.

Vesa Muhonen: ‘Being here in Amsterdam is fantastic. Even though I studied cosmology, I had a great job in consumer analytics at Nokia, where I especially liked the international aspects of the work. But I also really wanted to go out into the world, to enjoy broader experiences. When I saw the opportunities in Amsterdam and got to know the city, that was just it for me.

Being part of a company employing more than forty nationalities, you get to know a range of people; there are no preconceptions and there is no dominating culture. They come with stories from all around the world. The staff are all experts in their professional fields who assume, almost from the very start, that they should share their knowledge with you to have a good conversation. This sharing, passing along information when possible, is an integral part of my nature of course, because of my background in science.’

Important Human Benefit

‘My job at Mobiquity consists of helping the teams and exploring with our customers how they can utilize their data even more effectively. People sometimes ask: how does this work relate to your scientific career? Here’s one practical example. Mobiquity sponsors a brilliant student who is researching Artificial Intelligence, and I am his supervisor, which allows me to have a small foothold back in the academic world. But it goes beyond that. The research focuses on learning algorithms for personalised encouragement for healtier life, specifically for physical excercise. That, by itself, creates a huge public benefit. What you try to achieve with the app is to provide the user with the right messages at the perfect moment. A message such as ‘Go to the gym’ or ‘You can now start your exercises’, of course works much better at the exact moment the user is most receptive to this message. When the app learns that, the health results improve over a period of time.’

Effortless Experience

‘The question was: how does this work relate to a career in science? In science the basic rule is, whatever your model, whatever your favorite theory, it must be proven and the proof comes from the data. Data is king at the universities of Helsinki and Amsterdam and … data is also king at Mobiquity. But here there is one main difference. In physics you can exactly repeat the experiment. You can drop a stone and measure how fast it reaches the ground and you can keep repeating that experiment as many times as you need to get reliable results. But human behavior is messy, as people act differently all the time and you will never be able to recreate a moment in time for repeated experiments.

For weeks, people may exercise before eating a meal, then they suddenly skip a couple of days and switch to exercising after a meal. You want to be able to tweak the app to the point that it works seamlessly, that it becomes an effortless experience for the end-user. Mobiquity designs its apps based on human behavior as the determining factor, even if that pattern is sometimes hard to determine. Data is king, and here at Mobiquity the king is capricious. That makes the work both so fascinating and challenging for me.’

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