Q & A

3 Questions with Lisa Singh

November 20, 2019

Lisa Singh is a Data Scientist at the Massive Data Institute and Professor of Computer Science

What new course or skills do you think today’s students need that isn’t being taught right now?
A course that teaches them that every piece of data has a pro and a con. We now have large scale data that we’ve never had access to before. And it’s this access that allows us to actually grapple with some of the societal scale issues that we just haven’t been able to. As an example, we’re able to use indirect indicators of conversation such as public open Twitter conversations or newspaper articles to help inform us about where migrants might be moving. This information helps NGOs and others put aid in the right places – where it will be used. We couldn’t imagine using these data and methods for this problem five or ten years ago. So students in the classroom need to learn about the pros and cons of using different types of data for different problems and learn to decide when it’s okay, when it’s actually good for society, versus when it’s not.

What are you working on that you’re most excited about?
I am both a professor in computer science and a professor in the Massive Data Institute. One of the reasons that I want to be in both of these roles is so I can use my computer science training to impact public policy. Through some of the research projects I’m working on right now with my colleagues, I am looking at forced migration in the Middle East, the Me Too movement, and gun violence and ownership, and election dynamics. Can we use social media and other forms of organic data in smart ways to better understand these issues. How can we blend these new forms of data with more traditional data to develop new forms of evidence to improve policy and spearhead change? Georgetown, the computer science department and MDI have been the ideal place for me to find strong interdisciplinary teams to engage in this work.

What do you like most about being at Georgetown?
I love the values and energy of Georgetown. I love the desire of faculty and students to “do good”. It is not just talk — we really want to work on impactful research and send students out to change the world. There’s also nothing like being in D.C. It is the epicenter in the United States of policy issues on tech. And policy issues need to be informed by ethics. Our location enables us to bring in people from down the street to interact with our students. The major policy leaders of every tech company from Facebook to LinkedIn to Twitter has a shop here in D.C., and they can talk to our students about their ethical standards and what it means to really try to translate values into structures that are going to advance society and help the world.

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