Q&A: Statistician Nate Silver talks big data, sports analysis

A love of sports is what set Silver onto a career in working with data.

Political statistician Nate Silver (left) talks to conference MC Jason Silva,

Political statistician Nate Silver (left) talks to conference MC Jason Silva,

New York-based political statistician and author Nate Silver was a special guest speaker at IBM’s Information On Demand conference. Big data, algorithms and sports analysis were among the topics of discussion.

Conference MC Jason Silva conducted a question and answer session with Silva during the keynote.

Silva: When did you first become interested in statistics and the science of making predictions?

Silver: It started when I was 11 or 12 and trying to build a fantasy baseball team. I started to dig into the data to try and see what drives players who are successful in baseball. From a love of sports and being a math dork set me onto a whole different career path.

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Silva: One of the things that big data does is reduce the variables of behaviours into an algorithm. For human beings, how is it possible that we can be converted into algorithms?

Silver: People have to realise that any model of the world is an approximation. The question is if you have a model that enhances your understanding of things and can automate data. I’m trying to think of ways to improve our habits so we know how to deal with all this wealth of information that we have and mine it for actual insight.

Silva:What is your favourite kind of analysis to do?

Silver: Looking at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) basketball tournament stats. You get a real feel for how randomness and uncertainty plays out. For example, a highly ranked team may lose to a team coming 15th on the table.

Silva: What’s next on the agenda for you?

Silver: I’m interested in how cities and urban environments are working with data. For example, in New York there is data being collected from every single taxi journey within the five boroughs [of the city]. I think we will see more innovations from the public sector like this within a short time period.

Hamish Barwick travelled to Information on Demand in Las Vegas as a guest of IBM

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick Follow CIO Australia on Twitter: @CIO_Australia

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Tags algorithmsInformation on DemandstatisticsNate SilverbasketballJason Silva

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