Largest gift in Berkeley’s history will create a ‘hub’ for advancing data science

March 2, 2020

This story originally appeared at Berkeley News

A photo of a large auditorium filled with students all listening to a single speaker on stage.

Each year, more than 6,000 undergraduates complete a data science course at Berkeley, and many start with the wildly popular Foundations of Data Science class, also known as Data 8. (UC Berkeley photo by Jill Hodges)

UC Berkeley’s Division of Computing, Data Science, and Society (CDSS) will soon have a brick-and-mortar home, thanks to an anonymous $252 million gift to seed the construction of a new “Data Hub” on the open space at the intersection of Hearst Avenue, Arch Street and MacFarlane Lane.

The donation, which represents the single largest gift in Berkeley’s history, will provide core funding for a sustainable, visually striking facility that will serve as a hub for the diverse array of students and faculty engaged in computing and data science research and teaching, and will provide a new anchor for Berkeley’s fastest-growing new areas of study.

“The Data Hub will be a magnet, bringing together scholars from disciplines across campus to forge new collaborations and take on some of the most critical questions facing society today, from biomedicine, to climate change and sustainability, to making data-informed public policy on issues of societal significance,” said Jennifer Chayes, associate provost for CDSS and dean of the School of Information. “We are immensely grateful for this generous anchor gift, which will help us make the Data Hub possible.”

A photo of a large open lot, surfaced in sand, on the UC Berkeley campus.

The new Data Hub will be located in the open space on Hearst Street just north of Koshland Hall. (UC Berkeley photo by Keegan Houser)

The anonymous gift represents a significant piece of Berkeley’s landmark $6 billion “Light the Way” fundraising campaign, which officially launched Saturday, Feb. 29th. Additional private support of approximately $300 million will be raised to complete this capital project and make the most of the new division’s potential.

“The Division of Computing, Data Science, and Society is a transformative new organization on campus, connecting students and faculty across departments and divisions to place Berkeley at the forefront of path-breaking research and education,” said Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Paul Alivisatos. “The Data Hub will be the home base for this dynamic new teaching, learning, and research environment.”

Across campus, researchers are advancing state-of-the-art data science, machine learning, artificial intelligence and advanced statistics, and using them to tackle data sets and address questions that were once insurmountably complex, from public health and human welfare to fundamental science.

These technologies are also transforming how society as a whole operates: As computing spreads into many areas of life, machine learning algorithms are increasingly being used to set bail, decide who gets access to health care, and determine who might be likely to recommit a crime; and artificial intelligence is poised to one day help us drive our cars or even care for our parents as they age.

“To ensure these systems and tools are used ethically and responsibly, experts in computing and data science must work closely with ethicists, sociologists, legal scholars and others at every step of the process,” Chayes said. “And for these collaborations to happen, these disparate groups need a space to work together.”

A map of the Berkeley campus, with the proposed site of the Data Hub highlighted in Blue. It is located on the corner of Hearst and Macfarlane lane.

The proposed location of the new Data Hub on the Berkeley campus. (UC Berkeley graphic by Hulda Nelson)

The importance of data science for navigating the modern world is also evident in the throngs of Berkeley students demanding an education in the field: Each year, approximately 6,000 undergraduates take a data science course at Berkeley, and the new data science major is the fastest-growing major on campus, approaching the size of computer science itself.

In addition to faculty offices and labs, the building will likely contain robotics and other artificial intelligence laboratories, research centers and workroom spaces, public gathering areas, and teaching space, including a large auditorium and classrooms that can facilitate innovative teaching in the immensely popular data science and computer science courses.

Berkeley has initiated a search for a design and construction manager that will work with Capital Strategies to manage the initial design and planning process for the facility.

“Berkeley faculty and students are advancing the foundations of computing and data science at a rapid pace, while harnessing these tools to revolutionize biomedicine, engineering, environmental science and other critical disciplines,” Alivisatos said. “I’m delighted that the Division of Computing, Data Science, and Society is taking flight, and the Data Hub will become the space where all these efforts intersect.”