Our Researcher Spotlight Series profiles DataLab affiliated faculty, staff, graduate students and postdoctoral scholars across disciplines to demonstrate the diversity of our community and highlight their amazing work.
As the first person to fully measure how much data exists in the world, Martin Hilbert’s research covers a lot of ground. From working with the United Nations to crossing computational science with statistics in his research, Martin’s work has a broad impact.
After officially retiring from his job with the United Nations in his mid-30s, Martin joined academia in order to more deeply study his passion, what he terms the “digitalization and algorithmification of society.” As he explains it, digitalization is all about the communication of information while algorithmification “has to do with knowledge.” In both cases, he’s interested in how these areas intersect with the digital world and, in turn, how those intersections affect society. Right now, he uses information theory–”the basis of statistics,” which “crosses computer science…with probabilities”–as a lens through which to examine the downsides of digital technology: not only depression and addiction, but also economic manipulation and misinformation. “I’m researching…[how] some people are more immune to these kinds of downsides,” he explains. “They have a kind of digital immunity that comes down to the differences in how we process and compute information. Some people get completely sucked into this digital manipulation, and some process information [in a way] that makes them more immune.” Understanding the differences in how humans process digital information can help us grasp more clearly the social and emotional effects of our increased reliance on technology in society.
Martin still frequently works with the UN, conducting consultancy work for their human development report every year and bringing groups of students from UC Davis to Chile to harvest data by conducting webscraping projects for the organization. And though they couldn’t travel during the pandemic, Martin and his students worked with the UN to analyze the digital footprint of society’s migration online to better understand the labor market dynamics of a highly virtual world: “all of that you can do with data science,” he explains.
As for what motivates Martin and helps him keep his research momentum: it’s the interdisciplinarity of the field and the potential for collaboration. Between his work with the UN and DataLab and his partnerships with students and faculty in the growing Computational Social Sciences Designated Emphasis program, these collaborations are “what I’ve always loved about data science,” he says. He even jokes that his favorite data science tool is YouTube, where you can find a large data science community creating tutorials for free. “We are so fortunate and so blessed that there are so many people who take the time to record these YouTube tutorials where you can just look something up really quickly,” he notes, “especially if you want to stay flexible with your data science methods.”
Martin frequently tells his students that his best advice is to choose a research path that excites them. “Research becomes good when you’re really interested in it,” he explains, “and you can look for the tools to fulfill that interest” later.
To learn more about Martin’s work, visit his webpage.