Visionaries in Technology

Thayer Distinguished Speaker Series

Thayer School's Visionaries in Technology series honors engineers and scientists whose insights have benefited humanity through revolutionary engineering solutions, paradigm shifting scientific advances, novel fields of inquiry, or policy shaping debate.

The 2019 event took place on October 25th:

Riding Data Waves: from ripples to tsunamis

The 2010s have arguably been the decade of data, with “big data“ becoming bigger, data driven decision making becoming a corporate imperative, data analytics becoming the hot new degree, data being called a natural resource, and data scientist being awarded the dubious title of “sexiest job of the 21st century.” In many ways, the focus on data is just the next logical and inevitable stage in the evolution of information technology; it required the previous stages and it will provide the foundation for future evolution.

In this talk, a quick history of the past six decades of IT will be reviewed with a focus on the digitization of data and the creation of new data by-products. A brief detour will be a discussion of technology projections made in 1995, including what happened, what happened much later than projected, what was projected that didn’t happen, and what happened that was largely unforeseen. The talk will resume with examples of current and emerging use and creation of data and will conclude with a view of future possibilities, technical and non-technical issues that may accelerate or delay the possibilities, and some musings on methods to defend first-principals driven methods from displacement by purely data-driven approaches.

Brenda Dietrich, The Geoffrion Family Professor of Practice at Cornell's School of Operations Research

Brenda Dietrich

After studying abstract mathematics at the University of North Carolina, Brenda Dietrich drifted into operations research and earned a PhD in the field at Cornell. She joined IBM in 1984 to gain a bit of real-world experience before launching an academic career. Thirty-some years later—having led IBM’s mathematical research team, driven the creation and deployment of math and data-based business applications across IBM, been instrumental in defining IBM’s data and analytics strategy and investments, and raised four children—she finally made the transition to academia by returning to her alma mater as the Geoffrion Family Professor of Practice in the School of Operations Research. At Cornell she teaches, ponders future research, and has established an industrial affiliates program to connect the research and educational missions of the department to the current and near-term needs of industry.

During her IBM career, she was appointed IBM Fellow and held several IBM vice president roles, including strategist and chief technology officer for Business Analytics, head of emerging technologies for the Watson group, and head of data science for IBM Consulting. she also served as president of INFORMS (the largest operations research professional society), launched the COIN-OR open source initiative—which was awarded the INFORMS Impact Prize—co-authored a book on analytics, served on the Board of Trustees of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, and served on numerous National Research Council boards and studies. She was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2014 and currently serves on the board for Science, Technology, and Economic Policy. In her spare time she spins yarn, dyes, weaves, knits and designs.