“Have you heard the one about the elephant in the dark room?”
Dr. Amir Hajian, a Data Scientist with Thomson Reuters, leans forward as he pushes back his glasses. He’s just shared a startling fact from Thomson Reuters’ 2015 State of Innovation Report: the modern world produces about five exabytes of data every two days.
Every two days we create the same amount of information our species produced between the dawn of civilization and 2003. Human beings are mapping, charting, tracking, recording, documenting, observing and measuring the world at an unprecedented rate.
“What we’re making is too big for us to understand,” says Hajian. “It’s like the elephant in the dark room. If we touch just one part at a time, we may never understand how big and powerful this thing really is. Until we can see it all at once we can’t even imagine it.”
Everyone knows you can’t make smart decisions without data, but information without insight is equally toothless. Enter Thomson Reuters Labs – Waterloo Region, an outfit dedicated to finding the signal in the noise. Thomson Reuters executives will launch the lab at a party during Techtoberfest (Oct. 13-14) to celebrate establishing a presence in the Communitech Hub.
“Thomson Reuters Labs will give Waterloo Region startups a chance to partner with one of the leading sources of professional information in the world,” said Iain Klugman, President and CEO of Communitech. “While also providing Thomson Reuters new insights into how these data sets can be used in rapidly changing markets.”
For the scientists joining Thomson Reuters Labs in October, those huge data sets are appetizing.
“I chose Thomson Reuters because this is where the data is,” says Hajian, a former astrophysics researcher (Princeton, University of Toronto) who now uses powerful mathematical techniques to model, interpret and visualize Thomson Reuters’ massive collection of data. “Building a lab here, from the ground up, is interesting because of the ecosystem. We have amazing access to academic thinking, but also startups with their speed and culture… We really have a unique opportunity as data scientists to shape something brand new here. It’s incredibly exciting.”
So what does this data look like? Huge spreadsheets of numbers, graphs, and charts?
“It’s a combination of a lot of different kinds of data, but I think the most exciting data we have is unstructured,” says Hajian. “Words. What is happening in the news, on Facebook, on Twitter. All these words are information – data we’re all producing – and the goal of the data innovation lab is to create machines that can interpret this and give us the insights we need.”
“Take the stock market,” says Hajian. “The news reflects what is happening in the world and so does the stock market. They respond to the same thing. But the picture is much more complicated than this, because the stock market responds to what’s written in the news and the news changes based on the behaviour of the market. It’s all related, all connected, and telling us there is hidden information encoded into both. Understanding how this process works will be incredibly powerful.”
So why choose Waterloo Region to set establish this lab?
“In a word, innovation,” says Brian Zubert, Director of Thomson Reuters Labs – Waterloo Region. “Waterloo is known far and wide as a major hub for innovation, and Thomson Reuters wants to be a part of it. We have terabytes and terabytes and terabytes of data in everything from financial, to legal, to government and so on. The data sets include everything, from market data to the full supply chain for a given company. We know where a company is located, who their suppliers are, what their practices are, their risk levels…” Zubert shakes his head, overcome with the volume of information at his fingertips.
“With this volume of data, we can see how changing weather patterns might impact agriculture for the next six months, and predict how those agriculture changes could impact the stock market,” says Zubert. “Knowledge powers insight, and with so much historical data at its fingertips, Thomson Reuters is well-positioned to provide insights into just about everything.”
Thomson Reuters is the latest major firm to partner with Communitech and open an innovation space at the Hub. Existing corporate innovation partners include Canadian Tire, TD Bank Group, Canon, Manulife and Deloitte.