Ridge speaks to need for data analysis

On Friday, April 11, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge visited Mercyhurst to take part in the announcement of the Tom Ridge School of Intelligence Studies and Information Science.

The occasion was marked with a press conference at which Tom Gamble, PhD., the president of the University, Jim Breckenridge, PhD., dean of the new school, and Ridge spoke.

Gamble spoke about the reasons for naming the school after Ridge. The main reasons being his career as governor of Pennsylvania, and then the first Secretary of Homeland Security, as well as his commitment to ethics, and, finally, that he is “a native son” of Erie.

Breckenridge spoke about the implications for the new school and the opportunities which lay ahead for the program.

In the past year, he said, “we have experienced a disappeared Malaysian airliner, the annexation of the Crimea by Russia, the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, and a landslide in California.”

He focused on how all of these events had warning signs which were noticed, but not addressed.

The new school will include three departments – Intelligence Studies, Math and Computer Science, and Communication – bringing them together to address the matter of large amounts of data.

He also focused upon the quantity of data the human race is putting out, citing the fact that the worldwide data output in past two years is the equivalent of a zetabyte, the equivalent of 1 billion terabytes.

Breckenridge pointed out that such a vast quantity of data was an opportunity for the new school which, combining Math and Computer Sciences with Intelligence Studies, would be able to tap into the area of big data analytics and prepare students to tackle the challenges that lay ahead.

Ridge also focused on the vast quantities of data out there, both in his speech and in later comments.

He said that the United States is “data-rich and knowledge poor.” The goal of the students that the school will train will be to take all of that data and turn it into knowledge which can help inform decision makers.

He also placed a heavy emphasis on ethics and constitutional implications for information collection and analysis. In later comments, he said that “while there’s no specific constitutional protection identified within the Constitution, the penumbra of the Constitution protects your privacy and mine.”

Speaking more about the implications and driving home the importance of ethical practices, Ridge said, “So as there’s more information that we voluntarily disclose about ourselves, or unknowingly disclose about ourselves out there in that big data cloud, depending on who extracts it and the purpose for which they use it, that has the potential to create ethical problems, and legal and constitutional problems. So there’s a line that has to be drawn and part of the curriculum over the years will have to be for students to understand that and identify it.”

For the Intelligence students, both current and future, who weren’t able to attend the press conference Ridge had a message:

“[Intelligence Studies] is a great program. Stick to it. Dive into it. Get as much out of it as you possibly can because at the end of the day, don’t just think about the alphabet agencies in Washington D.C. which are normally associated with ‘intelligence’, but the ability to aggregate, analyze, distill, to go from big data, and turn it into knowledge whether in the public or private sector offers great employment potential and personally it’s a skill set they can use for the rest of their lives.”