Focus on Scalable Analytic Methods

Near-daily headlines tout the promise and pitfalls of developments in artificial intelligence (AI), data science, and other advanced analytical methods—innovations that pose both challenges and opportunities for policy research. To ensure RAND is at the leading edge of understanding the effectiveness and implications of these tools, RAND has launched new initiatives that focus on the use of scalable analytic methods (SAM) to address complex policy problems and to help chart the way ahead for public policy as our sponsors and society grapple with the emerging and unanticipated effects of the increasing use of AI throughout the private and public sectors.

SAM is a term RAND is using to describe a broad array of research and analytic methods that generally require scalable computing and involve large data sets. They include both traditional and emerging approaches, such as those involving artificial intelligence and machine learning.

RAND’s recently established SAM task force, led by Susan Sohler Everingham, director of innovation architecture, will initiate and coordinate SAM-related efforts across the organization. SAM is one of the special areas of focus for RAND-Initiated Research in 2019, with funding awarded to a variety of projects that emphasize big data, data science, and AI.

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RAND has long had leading capabilities in science and technology. For example, when the first book ever published about artificial intelligence appeared in 1963, six of its 20 chapters had previously been published as RAND research reports. RAND researchers and consultants had developed some of the most influential early methods and tools for AI programming, concepts that are deeply embedded in the basic architecture of technologies we take for granted today, from aviation traffic control to sorting mail by handwritten zip code.

Building on our history of innovation, these new SAM initiatives will position RAND to attract more experts in the field, continue developing in-house high-performance computing capabilities, create opportunities for SAM experimentation, and meet the needs of clients in increasingly innovative ways. Several SAM-focused projects are underway, and Pardee RAND’s new Tech and Narrative Lab has been sponsoring RAND-wide teams in machine learning and big data competitions. The school also has added SAM-oriented classes and workshops that are open to all RAND staff.