Forum: Go East, young man, young woman, go East!

‘Get smart’ at the 2018 INFORMS International Conference in Taipei City.

By Richard C. Larson

Richard C. Larson

June! June! June! June marks the end of the academic year, and for those of us in New England, time for getting some distance from those terrifying nor’easters that devastated the region. Time to travel so far West you’re East! I am talking about Taipei City, the capital of Taiwan, a remarkable place to visit in Asia. And what is there in Taipei this June? The 2018 INFORMS International Conference, “A Better World Through Operations Research, Analytics and Artificial Intelligence,” set for June 17-20 (

Can you think of a better getaway in June – intellectual stimulation and excitement galore plus the opportunity to tour the wonderful island of Taiwan. Who might you see as plenary speakers? Well, how about Ed Kaplan of Yale University on “Operations Research and Public Health.” Or Radhika Kulkarni, SAS, on “Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence and Optimization: Opportunities for Inter-Disciplinary Innovation.” Or we can decide to get and stay smart with Oleg Gusikhin, Ford Motor Company, who will discuss “Smart Production of Smart Vehicles” and Shmuel S. Oren, University of California, Berkeley, on “Smart Markets for a Smart Electricity Grid.” Pick up lots of smarts in Taipei!

For the perspective of the Taiwanese government, how about San-Cheng (Simon) Chang, former premier, Taiwan, presenting, “From Open Data to Digital Economy – the Taiwan Perspective.” Just a taste of his talk: “In late 2012, Taiwan initiated its open data program. In 2015, Taiwan was ranked No.1 globally in the open data initiative by the UK Open Knowledge Foundation, and it carries this world-class honor till today. In the meantime, the Taiwan government started to employ big data technology to study and plan important policies. This effort leads most of the big data projects in the private sector and was recognized as a major milestone in government IT applications.” As INFORMS members know, OR/MS has grown exponentially recently with its embracing of data analytics and open knowledge. Listening to Dr. Chang’s presentation, you will see how one government embraces and utilizes these trends.

New hot trends require revamping the education of up-and-coming INFORMS members, that is, students who will practice and/or do research in our expanding domain. For this, there is a conference panel, “Transforming Education through Analytics & Learning Science and Engineering,” chaired by Ramayya Krishnan, INFORMS president-elect and the dean of the Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University. The distinguished panel includes: Way Kuo, president, City University of Hong Kong; Ling San, provost and vice president, Academic, NTU, Singapore; and Jeffrey Tsai, president, Asia University, Taiwan. Here is how the panel describes itself: “Advances in information technology, learning science and data analytics are transforming education. Technology-enhanced learning, flipped classroom and open learning initiatives are changing the ways in which students learn and demonstrate learning outcomes. In this panel, academic leaders will discuss how their universities are applying analytics and detailed data about learning and learning outcomes to create the 21st century educational experience for their students.”

Taipei City International conference

Taipei City, the capital of Taiwan and host of the INFORMS International Conference, is a remarkable place to visit. Image © Sean Pavone |

Be there or be squarely behind in new and growing teaching/learning methods!

Yours truly is one of the plenary speakers, speaking about “The Services Industries: Some Insights Provided by Operations Research.” Over the past 100+ years, economies of the developed world have moved seismically from agriculture (more than 50 percent of U.S. employment in 1900), to manufacturing and now to services (typically 80 percent of current jobs). Operations research (O.R.), often aided by IT and data analytics, has played and continues to play a vital role in policy and decision-making in services. Presenting recent examples, we will range broadly from (1) urban O.R., to (2) pandemic influenza and vaccine allocation modeling, to (3) modeling the process of science/engineering Ph.D. production and academic employment; to (4) queue performance inference made possible by recent results in data analytics.

We have two surprises: The first is the high “birth rate” of university professors, the numbers of Ph.D. students produced over a faculty lifetime. We analyze this, interpret it and reflect on options for faculty birth control. The second surprise: You’ll have to come to the plenary to find out! We conclude with a discussion of needs to tear down traditional academic silos when addressing the services industries, as most real problems are difficult and multifaceted, requiring inter-disciplinary if not trans-disciplinary approaches, not unlike the multi-person teams put together in the 1940s by our O.R. founders.

The above is just a brief taste of the program so skillfully put together by the Taipei conference Organizing Committee, chaired by Dr. Grace Lin, INFORMS Fellow and vice president, Asia University. Grace also wants you to know about touring the beautiful island of Taiwan. Instead of first reading tourism ads, just spend a few minutes watching one or more of these fantastic videos. And you will see why my wife and I plan to spend one extra week in Taiwan to visit some of the marvels of this beautiful island:

In June, hope to see you “In the East”!

A past president of INFORMS and an INFORMS Fellow, Richard C. Larson is Mitsui Professor in MIT’s Institute for Data, Systems and Society.