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Dr. John F Elder

Elder Research
Talk Title:

Thinking Hard and Soft: The Clash of Data Science, AI, and Human Expertise

Talk Description:

In the Thinking Wars, “Soft” is still on top. But for how long? Human Expertise –embattled everywhere by the machine rivals it spawned -- is still the only thing that can create something completely new. Yet, human judgment is painfully slow, inconsistent, and sometimes no more accurate than chance. The “hard” discipline of Data Science is fast, consistent, and (often) more accurate. DS takes a story and renders it into a data point; then, from myriad such points, induces valuable general lessons -- without bias, distraction, or preconceived notions. But only if essential details are in the stories. Anything not there is a shock, and inconceivable. A rival “hard” thinker, AI, can use knowledge encoded ahead of time; it doesn’t have to learn everything anew via examples. But such expertise is astonishingly mercurial; the act of isolating it to encode it may even harm it! And the base of “common sense” needed to build on is surprisingly vast. Thus, for decades, Artificial Intelligence has fallen laughably short of its hype. Until all of a sudden… it hasn’t. Now, some world-class thinkers (of the “soft” kind) are alarmed. Has a tipping point been reached? Dr. Elder will compare the strengths and weaknesses of these 3 tribes of thought, and clarify the state of their clash.


John leads the US's leading data mining consulting team. Elder Research has offices in Charlottesville Virginia, Baltimore Maryland, and Washington DC. For 20 years, the team has applied advanced analytics to achieve high ROI for investment, commercial and security clients in fields from text mining and stock selection, to credit scoring and fraud detection.

John has Engineering degrees from Rice and the University of Virginia, where he's an adjunct professor. He's authored innovative tools, is a popular keynote speaker, and has chaired International Analytics conferences. Dr. Elder served 5 years on a panel appointed by President Bush to guide technology for National Security.

He has co-authored three books (on data mining, ensemble modeling, and text mining), two of which won "book of the year" awards. John was keynote speaker at the inaugural Predict conference in 2015.