Big Data Comes to OKC to Study Everything from Quakes to Quran

By Walinchus, Lucia | THE JOURNAL RECORD, May 27, 2016 | Go to article overview

Big Data Comes to OKC to Study Everything from Quakes to Quran


Walinchus, Lucia, THE JOURNAL RECORD


OKLAHOMA CITY - As a religious studies professor at the University of Oklahoma, Dr. David Vishanoff used to pore through hundreds of books a year for his research. Now he analyzes hundreds of thousands.

His Quranic scholarship has blossomed thanks to a project engineered by Exaptive Inc., a big data startup firm in Oklahoma City.

"Clearly it's opening up the list of titles I have to work with, to include works and perspectives I could not encounter myself on the ground in Indonesia," he said. Though his research is far from complete, Vishanoff said he is already starting to trace the arcs of interpretation. For example, in Indonesia, long considered one of the best sites for Islamic scholarship, the literature tends to emphasize social issues, and not necessarily methods of interpretation, which surprised him.

Frank Evans, a data scientist at Exaptive who works on the project, said it took almost a year to build and test the tool, which includes a database of 2,000 classic Arabic texts, congressional records, and the WorldCat library bibliography system. Soon, the group plans to scan in hundreds of Vishanoff's physical books as well.

"We are building tools that facilitate the people who do know how to do the research to be able to do it far more effectively," Evans said.

David King, the founder of Exaptive, said he got the idea for the company years ago when he worked as a young software engineer for SynQor in the late 1990s. The company manufactured high-efficiency power supplies and finally got a big contract from Hewlett-Packard to deliver a hundred units after another supplier had an issue.

HP was furious, however, when two of the three products failed in testing. King said the company kept meticulous data on its manufacturing process and within a day was able to trace the problem back to a vendor who had supplied a faulty part in three units. King said HP didn't believe they had identified the problem, because no vendor had ever traced an issue so quickly.

King founded Exaptive in 2011 in Boston. When his wife, Deonnie Moodie, got a professorship at OU in 2014, King said, he was hesitant to move his company, which had mainly Massachusetts clients. But when he saw the state's eagerness to diversify its job growth, he changed his mind.

"When I got to Oklahoma City, what I found was a burgeoning entrepreneurial ecosystem that was very exciting to be part of. …

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