“Big Data,” Cyber Security, and Serious Gaming

In the last quarter-century, digital technology has impacted all of our lives in innumerable ways.  In the 1980s, a cassette tape Sony Walkman was considered high tech, computers were the size of sewing machines or bigger, and phones were pretty much always stuck on walls and/or tethered to cords. Today I often carry at least three mobile digital devices with me, three of which connect to the Internet. At San Jose State, we live in (if I can be allowed an overused cliché) the epicenter of digital technology, and an important mission of the university, and particularly the College of Science, is to prepare our students to be not only versed in these digital technologies but to join the region’s workforce as participants in the innovation of new digital technologies. Those in historically non-information technology fields such as biology and geology today rely almost entirely on the use of computational power and the Internet for the generation of original scholarship.

In this new and constantly changing information terrain, higher education must constantly develop new programs to keep pace with emerging employment and research opportunities for our students. Currently the college is participating in the development of new programs in three broadly overlapping areas focused on digital technology – Cyber Security, Data Science (“Big Data”), and Gaming.

In the course of a decade, our reliance on the Internet and, increasingly, mobile devices such as smart phones has created very real threats to personal, corporate, and government data. One of the appeals of Cyber Crime and Cyber Terrorism is that it is a very low cost and relatively low-risk endeavor. Anyone with an internet-connected computer, the right malware, and the motivation has the potential to become a Cyber Criminal.  While we often think of Cyber Crime in terms of personal identity theft, the bigger risks involve penetrating corporate, government, or health care networks, which can provide access to sensitive data on a very large scale.

A particularly vulnerable area is the linked networks that feed into vital infrastructural systems. In a June, 2012 report, the Department of Homeland Security noted that the number of credible attacks on vital infrastructure networks such as water filtration, electricity, and nuclear power has increased over tenfold since 2009, with a total of 198 such attacks reported in 2011.  Corporate and Government entities can easily see this many attempts each day!

What this scary picture points out is that defending threats to data stored in networks is a vast problem that will not go away as long as we rely on linked data networks like the Internet.  What is a threat to personal, corporate, and government security does create is a tremendous workforce need for those capable of detecting, managing, and repelling cyber threats.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor estimates that growth in one field of cyber sleuths, network and computer systems administrators, will grow by nearly 100,000 jobs in the next two decades.  San Jose State has strong research and training expertise in several areas related to Cybersecurity, and we plan to augment our existing strengths with several hires throughout the university in 2013.

As computing speeds continue to increase and data storage becomes cheaper, those in almost any enterprise that uses computers are becoming awash in data. Storing, organizing and interpreting these increasingly vast streams of data presents challenges to those in fields as diverse as marketing, molecular biology, astrophysics, and the optimization of transportation and utility grids.  Google was one of the pioneers of starting to collect frequency of searches as data, and this type of data collection has become the backbone of other related online services such as Facebook and LinkedIn.  In the process, the science of filtering, categorizing, and acting on results of such data has become a key to monetizing such online services, as well as a very strategic tool for any entity with an online presence to use in determining when, where, and by whom their services are being accessed.  Dealing with large bodies of data has historically been the realm of statisticians and applied mathematicians, and the College of Science trains people at the undergraduate and graduate levels in both areas. However, the emerging field of Data Science involves training individuals to both learn and develop new tools for extracting useful information from large bodies of data and to effectively interpret and act on data extracted from such tools. This emerging field of Data Science is inherently interdisciplinary, and the emerging “Big Data” initiative at SJSU will again involve several colleges, as well as partnerships with a number of Bay Area firms.

Another emerging interdisciplinary area involving information technology is our Learning and Games Initiative, which involves participants from the colleges of Science, Humanities and Arts, Social Science, and Education. This program had its genesis in the SJSU  Game Development Club (http://sjsugamedev.com/about), a student organization that brought together undergraduate and graduate students from Computer Science,  Art and Design, and other programs to design and play computer games under the direction of Art and Design faculty member James Morgan, who teaches gaming courses offered jointly by . At the same time, we entered discussions with several industry partners around the general topic of “Serious Gaming” and “Gamification” which both involve the adoption of gaming approaches and technologies to the worlds of Academia and Commerce. This led to discussions among the SJSU Deans that led to the establishment of a multi-departmental Learning and Games Initiative led by Dr. John Murray of the SRI Computer Science Laboratory, who has extensive experience in the study of learning through the use of games.

Obviously, there are broad overlaps among these three areas, in addition to the overlap between disciplines that present themselves within each field.  The initiatives in all three areas are all in their early stages of development, but each will provide new learning opportunities for our students as well as points of collaboration between regional industries, government agencies, and our students and staff.

On Friday, September 14, SJSU will be sponsoring the Edward Oates Symposium, entitled “Security in the Cyber Age.” This daylong event will feature keynote speakers Mark Weatherford (Deputy Undersecretary for Cyber Security, US Department of Homeland Security), Warren Yu (Chief Learning Officer, Naval Postgraduate School), and Leonard Napalitano (Sandia Labs). The event is free, but registration is required at



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