social quants

On a recent winter’s afternoon, nine computer science students were sitting around a conference table in the engineering faculty at University College London. The room was strip-lit, unadorned, and windowless. On the wall, a formerly white whiteboard was a dirty cloud, tormented by the weight of technical scribblings and rubbings-out upon it. A poster in the corner described the importance of having a heterogenous experimental network, or Hen.MoreON THIS STORYNascar nationPeter Aspden Cary FukunagaWhat Eve Arnold sawWatch out, ObamaCalled to the barON THIS TOPICComment UK must stay open to foreign studentsIN FT MAGAZINEThe Inventory Ann WiddecombeThe naked truth on how to find our organsFirst Person Sarah PriceHow to have a conversationSix of the students were undergraduates. The other three were PhD researchers from UCL’s elite Financial Computing Centre. The only person keeping notes was one of them: a bearded, 30-year-old Polish researcher called Michal Galas. Galas was leading the meeting, a weekly update on the building of a vast new collection of social data, culled from the internet. Under the direction of the PhD students, the undergraduates were writing computer programs to haul millions of pages of publicly available digital chatter – from Facebook, Twitter, blogs and news stories – into a real-time archive which could be analysed for signs of the public mood, particularly in regard to financial markets. Word of the project, known as SocialSTREAM, had reached the City months ago. The Financial Computing Centre was getting calls most days from companies wanting to know when it would be finished. The Bank of England had been in touch.

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