CITRIS hopes to tap campus databases to aid research across disciplines

By Diane Ainsworth, Public Affairs



CITRIS Director Ruzena Bajcsy

24 April 2002 | Though databases are growing exponentially, social scientists, urban planners, architects, anthropologists, economists and linguists are not yet equipped to mine these vast information reservoirs. But the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) hopes to change that.

The state legislature voted April 15 to fully fund CITRIS and the three other California Institutes for Science and Innovation, and Gov. Gray Davis is expected to sign the funding into law.

“This allows us to examine — in a serious fashion — the results of information technology on people and on society as a whole,” says Ruzena Bajcsy, CITRIS director, of the legislature’s vote.

The new research institute, led by Berkeley, is currently exploring potential collaborative projects across a wide range of disciplines that involve information technology.

“The information technologies are just a medium, like Gutenberg’s printing press, to help us address society’s most pressing problems,” she says.

Bajcsy has spent the last few months interviewing campus faculty — from business, linguistics, political science, health sciences, public policy, information management and other departments and research units — with an eye to possible collaborative projects using the large troves of data already available on campus.

Potential collaborations
The range of potential projects is, in fact, dizzying.
Faculty members in anthropology, each with thousands of slides, could benefit from an integrated image archive. Meg Conkey, director of the Archaeological Re-search Facility, said the department would like eventually to put approximately 80,000 images on a server accessible to everyone in the department.

With an infusion of CITRIS expertise, she says, the department’s small teaching lab, called the Class of 1960 Multimedia Authoring Center for Teaching in Anthropology, could provide a host of services to teach multimedia and archaeology.

Another CITRIS collaboration could involve “a 3-D model of campus building occupancy that would tell us how many people are in each building at any time of the day,” said John Radke, director of the Geography Information Science Center and an associate professor in the College of Environmental Design.

And if “smart sensors” were used inside classrooms, in combination with the 3-D model of building occupancy, “we would have continuous information about classroom occupancy and be able to respond more effectively when an earthquake struck or a fire broke out,” he says.

Radke also envisions regional and global applications for the technology, in urban development, transportation and environmental conservation.

“We’ve got massive databases now, but we haven’t built the information processing systems yet to be able to mine those databases and extract patterns and trends in the data,” he said. “Essentially, all we have right now is noise.”

CITRIS can change that, Radke says, “bringing together, say, urban planners with computer scientists to build integrative computer systems.”


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