Data Mining Proponents Mull Commercial Apps

Data mining researchers from academia and industry discuss the future of the controversial technology.

In the hands of a government preoccupied with security, data mining technologies raise the specter of bureaucratic intrusiveness of Orwellian proportions. But data mining researchers in the private sector say that this technology, like any tool, can be used for good, and they have grown weary of seeing it held out as a bogeyman.

Researchers from academia and industry gathered here late Tuesday to discuss the future of the technology at the KDD (Knowledge Discovery and Data mining) conference sponsored by the Association of Computing Machinery. With the recent spate of bad publicity regarding government data mining initiatives, KDD researchers are eager to champion the technologys potential as a strategic tool for businesses.

A panel of Ph.D.s Tuesday afternoon floated ideas for future commercial applications in the fields of security and fraud detection, e-commerce and bioinformatics, but they offered few details on when or how these applications would become available. Nonetheless, some see it as a growth industry in light of recent advances in storage technologies, which have created new ways to warehouse vast amounts of data cheaply.

Also a boon to the technology is Microsoft Corp.s decision to include a data mining capability in SQL servers. Other companies are taking a different approach, focusing on honing the technology for business use.

General Motors Corp., for its part, is working on ways to turn data mining into a strategic enterprise tool, according to Ramasamy Uthurusamy, a researcher at GM. Citing the recent reported success of Harrahs Entertainment Inc. in examining customer data to increase return business through new customer incentives, Uthurusamy said some businesses are already availing themselves of the technology.

Despite the optimism, the researchers acknowledged numerous challenges—both technological and cultural—that must be addressed before data mining becomes a widespread and useful enterprise tool.