Photo: Emily Karakis / Unsplash


Data science at Stanford

No surprise, connections to business run deep on the campus across the street from Palo Alto, Mountain View, and Menlo Park

Photo: Danielle Bengsch
Cornerstone of Silicon Valley. Photo: Danielle Bengsch

There are no signs to keep off the grass at Stanford. Still, no one sits on the lush, green lawns. In front of the Byte Café, between Hewlett and Packard’s, across the street from Gates’ building, people wiz by on bikes, in gulf carts, and skateboards on the computer science and engineering campus. Time is precious, and Silicon Valley and big business is palpable.

Mykel Kochenderfer and Emmanuel Candès are both professors at Stanford and spend their Fridays at a big US financial company, but today is Thursday and they’re meeting with me. Kochenderfer is assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics and leads the Stanford Intelligent Systems Laboratory. This lab is focused on research on advanced algorithms and analytical methods for the design of robust decision making systems. These systems are used everywhere you need to trust autonomous systems, like in air traffic control and unmanned vehicles in the air and on the ground.

Emmanuel Candès, Simons Professor of Mathematics and Statistics, and McArthur Fellow leads Stanford’s data science initiative. This initiative, which is in its launch phase, will fuel data science research, education, and outreach. He’s planning a data science course for all freshmen and sophomores. He wants to make data science a part of all research at Stanford, including the social science. The university’s image is mainly that of a tech school, but the research and education in the societal impact of technological progress shouldn’t fall behind, says Candès.

My trip of the big universities on the West Coast ends at an institution that’s not part of them anymore, but used to be. SRI — formerly named Stanford Research Institute, now simply known by its initials — is a private non-for profit that handles a lot of research, much of it in computer science and engineering for government and industry. DARPA is their biggest customer; Siri, the voice in my phone, was born here.

I expected a tight connection between Stanford and Silicon Valley, but was still surprised to see how deeply ingrained business is in science at this school. Pursuing both science and business keeps you busy of course, and it also keeps you off the lawn. (By Danielle Bengsch)