Cafe Scientifique And The Future Of Data

I’ve been meaning to go to (my first) Cafe Scientifque for quite a while now

Cafe Scientifique is a place where, for the price of a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, anyone can come to explore the latest ideas in science and technology. Meetings take place in cafes, bars, restaurants and even theatres, but always outside a traditional academic context.

Finally the timing was good and last week I managed to get to a meeting in nearby Winchester, which was held in a very pleasant patisserie (great cakes!). Hugh Proudman, a Program Director at IBM, was the speaker and the topic was

‘The future of Data: will we be swamped or can we manage it?’

Hugh is based at the IBM Hursley Park site which is near Winchester.

The format was a 30 min presentation, a break for refreshments and then a period of Q&A. After some general introductory material, Hugh went on to talk about the leading-edge IBM computer system Watson. This hit the popular headlines last year through winning the US quiz show Jeopardy! against top human contestants.

The talk generated a very lively and varied discussion ranging from technical to ethical issues!

Coincidentally there’s an interesting article on Watson and it’s possible applications to the healthcare market in today’s Wired:

“Watson will give you the confidence and say: ‘I”m 90 percent sure of this, or I’m only 10 percent sure of this.’ You can immediately see how that is useful in medicine or in finance. The other thing we can do is we can tell the user why is this answer here. What kinds of evidence do we use, what facts did we use, what were we sure about, and what were we not sure about? And were the documents we used from very reliable sources or from less-reliable sources.”

The Cafe Scientifique is a useful way of bringing together people with a common interest in science (and it’s ramifications) that may not otherwise connect. In fact, by pure coincidence, I sat down next to someone who used to work for my previous employer (QinetiQ) but who I’d never met before – it really is a small world!

The cafes are free and have locations worldwide.

Why not try one? You can find your local one here.

Alternatively, perhaps you’d like to help start one up (info here)?

Picture credit: here (cropped).

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