New Beginnings for MDI in 2024

Written by Lisa Singh, MDI Director, Sonneborn Chair, and a Professor in the Department of Computer Science and McCourt School of Public Policy.

Reflections on the previous year are typically sent out in December with warm wishes for a wonderful holiday season. Thoughts about new upcoming initiatives are usually out the door the first week of January with hopes for an amazing new year. But at MDI we have decided to be an outlier and share our 2024 new beginnings at the END of January. Since it would be a faux pas to wish you “A Wonderful Holiday Season” or “Happy New Year,” at this point, I’m excited to wish you “Happy New Beginnings” and share with you some of MDI’s new beginnings for 2024:

  • NEW MOTTO: During our staff retreat, the MDI team brainstormed and decided on MDI’s  new motto: Massive data made meaningful. Although I can take zero credit for it, I love it!! It says so succinctly that data by themselves are not valuable, rather it is the responsible curating, governance, and analysis of data that make it both usable and impactful. Yay team!!
  • NEW MDI SCHOLARS COHORT: We welcomed our Spring 2024 cohort of 30 MDI Scholars two weeks ago during an unexpected BIG D.C. snowstorm! The MDI Scholars program is an experiential learning opportunity for undergraduate and Master’s students to work on interdisciplinary research projects with our affiliated faculty and our partners (e.g., U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). 
  • EXPANDING STUDENT RESEARCH: We also look forward to starting research with our second cohort of NSF REU (Research Experience for Undergraduate) students. Last year’s REU cohort brought nine undergrads from around the country to the Hilltop to work on forced migration research. This year’s cohort will focus on misinformation research related to the 2024 U.S. Presidential election.
  • NEW FOCUS ON RESPONSIBLE AI: The MDI team has been collaborating with partners to think about the implications of the next generation of AI tools and technologies on society. We believe it is important for our Institute to help shape the direction of research and policy in this area. Our faculty, MDI Scholars, and other Georgetown students have already begun sharing thoughts about the government’s role in safeguarding the public (see opinions about President Biden’s new executive order). To facilitate conversations around this topic, MDI and the Tech and Policy Program (TPP) in McCourt are partnering to launch a new series this spring called “AI & Me.” This series will examine the issues of privacy, ethics, and creativity as they relate to new AI technologies — stay tuned for more details!
  • NEW MDI DATA WORKSHOP SERIES: We began the spring Data Workshop Series last week. Each semester, MDI sponsors a series of technical workshops for Georgetown faculty, staff, and students to introduce our community to state-of-the-art methods, programming paradigms, and technologies. This spring, we have four workshops centered around the theme of working with non-traditional data analysis (networks, spatial data, time series data, and image data), while last semester’s focus was on using text as data
  • NEW TECHNICAL INFRASTRUCTURE PARTNERSHIPS: MDI continues to grow its technology support for research with its access to cloud-based compute resources. Our new partnership with the McDonough School of Business has already enabled close to 20 faculty to use MDI’s infrastructure to support their research. Earlier this month, we also started a new initiative to “buy out time” of our technical team to support short-term research needs. We plan to continue to expand these offerings to other parts of the university throughout the year.

As excited as I am about MDI’s great start in 2024, I worry about what is ahead for all of us in 2024. I worry about the volatility of the world we live in and where it is headed, particularly as the ability to use data and algorithms to manipulate people continues to grow increasingly sophisticated. The ways in which people can misuse technology in this arena are increasing more rapidly than policy and legislation can keep up. This is why the research done at MDI is so important. Not only are we thinking about the policy needs, we are also developing the next generation of technologies responsibly, debating different types of safeguards, sharing curated data and tools, and finding innovative ways to use these technologies to improve outcomes for people. 

I thank all those who engage with and support what we do at MDI. Our focus on cross-disciplinary approaches that tackle problems from multiple directions is so critical at this moment. That is why we work with faculty and students from across the GU community and with partner agencies around DC to advance policy and research on many of the issues of our time — elections, the environment, forced displacement, the economy, education, disease transmission, poverty, and so many others. We will also continue to advance policy and methods for data governance, data privacy, and data blending. And given our mission, we are adding a new focus this year on AI by (1) facilitating deep conversations about difficult issues around AI; (2) making technical infrastructure and data (through data commons and data portals) available for researchers; and (3) training the GU community on how to develop and use these new technologies responsibly.  

As an interdisciplinary research institute that connects experts across computer science, data science, public health, public policy, and social science, I believe it is our responsibility at MDI to help tackle difficult societal issues and impact public policy in a way that improves people’s lives through responsible evidence-based research. The world will not get better if we sit back. This is a moment for hard work, passion, and an open mind. If you are ready, I hope you will join us.  

Wishing you Happy New Beginnings! 

MDI Director