“Algorithms churning through huge data bases containing factoids about what, how, and where people buy, have been essential in increasing the productivity of the U.S. commercial real estate sector. The ability to analyze inventory and target customer need via massive mathematical data sets is a game changer.”

— Mike Hammond, CEO Cushman & Wakefield| PICOR

A data revolution is taking place in the social sciences, health care, business, finance and commerce. This far-reaching transformation is driven by novel computational algorithms that track and analyze human behavior on the Internet and on mobile devices using enormous computer processing power and storage capacity allowing analysts to gain empirical insight.

Underlying this revolution, more than ever is mathematics, and at the University of Arizona School of Mathematical Sciences, we are playing an important part in developing new minds and methods to play critical roles in this emerging field.

To illustrate the different approaches, we can compare how increased data fidelity can reject erroneous assumptions. Fifteen years ago my online purchase of a Batman film led Amazon.com to incorrectly deduce my interest in the vague category of “comic book heroes.” Today, such predictive methods have vastly improved.

Rather, Amazon can now detect trends in all my previous purchases, deducing that my interest in another Jack Nicholson film may make me the actor’s fan rather than a superhero follower. Through application of a higher volume of data and through trends in consumer networks, Amazon can vastly increase certainty in its customer predictions and recommendations.

On a large scale, to improve patient care the government has begun penalizing hospitals that regularly readmit patients within 30 days of discharge. These penalties have cost hospitals more than $280 million in Medicare funds.

In response, hospitals are hiring mathematicians and data scientists to assign patients a predictive score based on thousands of clinical and administrative data variables collected for each patient to ensure better discharge decisions and follow-up care.

Advanced mathematical predictive models are not only facilitating marketing and consumer analysis but are also aiding decision-making in numerous other areas of public administration and private businesses. In addition to the ongoing social sciences’ revolution in data, mathematicians are widely hired for positions in business, government and high tech industry.

In the next decade the employment of mathematicians is predicted to grow by 23 percent, the fastest among all professions. By the year 2018 the US may face a shortage of up to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills, which means that mathematicians will be in high demand.

UA’s highly ranked mathematical sciences school plays a critical role in the ongoing mathematical and quantitative revolution. Besides providing the foundational pillars to more than 1,300 mathematics majors and minors, the mathematical sciences faculty is pursuing data-intense collaborative research and our graduates are in the front line of the quantitative revolution.

UA graduate Keith Schon is the manager of the core technology group at Cataphora, a Menlo Park, California-based firm, that develops “sophisticated technologies for understanding patterns of individual and organizational behavior.” He earned his undergraduate degrees in mathematics and ecology and evolutionary biology and holds a masters in mathematics from Stanford University.

“Mathematics allows me to work on the leading edge of what is possible; it gives me a say in how society deals with powerful new technologies,” Schon says.

While mathematics has always served as the language of scientific progress, now its application can be found in almost every field. Through mobile and Internet-generated behavioral data, analysts can develop scientific approaches to subjects that previously were assumed to be purely an art.

Through interdisciplinary partnerships, the UA mathematical sciences school is an integral driver of this approach both regionally and nationally. Mathematical literacy has never been more valued and more relevant and will only continue to be absolutely necessary for this profound societal transformation.

Moysey Brio, a faculty member in the University of Arizona school of mathematical sciences, studies computer simulations of laser material processing and nanoscale optical devices. Every semester he supervises about a dozen undergraduate research projects in the areas of finance, decision science and image processing. Contact him at brio@math.arizona.edu