Posted by Lei Wu on October 27, 2015 in Data Science, Operations

 

Technology evolution is a very common and natural process throughout human history.  Some people like it while some people are hesitant.  Despite attitudes towards technology evolution, new technology will eventually come.  That is how technology trends advance, that is how quality of life advances and that is how human civilization advances.

As a technology company, Ancestry is deeply affected by the rapid pace of technology evolution. We must invent ways to react quickly to make the most of available technologies and ultimately improve our product and service. This challenge is not unique to Ancestry as many companies stay on top of the latest trends and even out run the evolution of technology. When a new technology crosses our path, I will often reflect on a historical lesson we should all learn from. One of history’s most famous inventors momentarily struggled with adopting new technologies. I want to share part of his story to emphasize the importance of allowing technology to advance.

After he invented the electric light bulb in 1879, Thomas Edision founded power stations all over US and formed a power distribution system.  But one limitation of this system was that it only provided 110 volts of direct current (DC), which is very difficult to transmit over long distances.  His competitor, Westinghouse Electric, developed alternating current (AC), which makes long distance transit possible over cheap wires.

Edison fought against adopting AC.  He started thinking of reasons to support his anti-AC statements.  He found some really good reasons. For example, the AC inventor did not disclose his theories behind the invention making it dangerous to use because no one totally understood the technology. Edison even invented an AC electric chair to show how dangerous it was to use AC.  He contacted the media and published a lot of reviews to broadcast his anti-AC opinion. He also teamed up with anti-AC politicians and supported legislation to control and limit AC installations.  Those efforts are referred to as the “Battle of Currents.”

Although Edison spent so much effort and time to prevent AC from happening, AC eventually came as a dominating technology in electric power.  By 1890 AC was so overpowering that DC plants started to quit the market.

Edison thought it over and started to change his attitude towards AC.  Instead of spending meaningless time arguing and fighting against AC, Edison started to support AC by inventing a new device that could convert between DC and AC.  This new device was considered the new opportunity in technology evolution.  With this new device, Edison and his business survived and went back to market.

We are no longer fighting a “Battle of Currents” but we are fighting other battles. As a data scientist I am on the front line of the data science era. Evolution comes quickly as seen by IBM’s use of cognitive computing to improve their CRM, Facebook’s use of data to personalize online advertising and LinkedIn’s use of data science to disrupt traditional recruiting techniques. These trends and many other developments in the data science industry are gaining momentum and will require much attention.

As we venture into new eras we must remember that technology evolution is an old friend.  He visited humanity in the past, present and future. He took away old technologies and businesses while bringing us new technology and opportunities.  No matter what attitude humans took towards our old friend, he will come again when it is time.  Some people fight against him, some people try to delay him, some people start looking for new opportunities and some people prepare for a warm welcome.

What attitude should we take towards the new data science era?

Lei Wu

Lei Wu has worked as a Principal Data Scientist and Data Science Manager at Ancestry since Jun 2015. His passion for data is rooted in his dream of generating machine intelligence from data to serve the people and he specializes in projects involving Machine Learning and Data Mininig. Lei has served as a technical editor for Machine Learning Journal, session chair at multiple artificial intelligence conferences and program committee member at various machine learning international conferences and organizations. Besides working or studying, Lei enjoys reading, hiking and cooking. One of his ancestors was the Ministor of Education in Guangxi Province, who used to be the top scholar in China during Qing Dynasty.

1 Comment

  1. Paul Lamb III

    Can’t wait to meet Family and actually see for real…

    #Ancestry.com/Best Idea&NeverFaledmySearch

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