Profile: Naren Ramakrishnan

Name: Naren Ramakrishnan

Title: Associate professor

Organization: Virginia Tech

Age: 35

Industry: Education

30-second biography: Two of Ramakrishnan's most recent research projects are out-of-turn interaction in Web sites and the data mining algorithm called "storytelling." The first project was recognized with the 2001 New Century Technology Council Innovation award, and the latter led to the identification of a novel protein, a finding reported on by the National Institutes of Health in its quarterly Biomedical Computation Review. Ramakrishnan received his Ph.D. in computer science from Purdue University in 1997, after just two and a half years of graduate study. He is now an associate professor of computer science, director of graduate studies in computer science, and faculty fellow in engineering at Virginia Tech. He also serves as an adjunct professor at the Institute of Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology in Bangalore, India.

Ramakrishnan is recipient of a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Program award (the NSF's recognition for most-promising young faculty) and was rated a top 10 teacher at Virginia Tech. He currently serves on the editorial board of the IEEE's Computer magazine and is program chairman for the IEEE International Conference on Data Mining, to be held in October 2007.

Current project: "A new data mining algorithm, called storytelling, that relates information that, at first sight, appears dissimilar. This has implications for the next generation of search engines, literature-based discovery and link analysis in counterterrorism. From small-fry applications (e.g., making connections between the 'U.S. Senators of Virginia' and 'the cast of Friends'), to scientific questions (making connections between 'desiccation in yeast' to 'aging in humans'), to intelligence analysis (making connections between 'passengers on flight 847' to 'suspicious activities recorded over the last year'), storytelling provides an important tool to navigate and harness massive databases."

Who in the technology industry most influenced your career? "Steve Jobs. His commencement speech at Stanford in 2005 was short and sweet, and summarized by his adage: 'Stay hungry. Stay foolish.' It mirrors the quote I try to live by: 'In science, self-satisfaction is death. Personal self-satisfaction is the death of the scientist. Collective self-satisfaction is the death of the research. It is restlessness, anxiety, dissatisfaction and agony of mind that nourish science.' "

Most-critical technologies for IT this year: "Innovations in the past several years have made all of us producers of information as much as consumers of information. Better tools for personal information management will be crucial to the success of the IT industry in the next year."

The best thing about today's technology: "The empowerment it brings to people so that they can influence trends and progress."

The worst thing about today's technology: "How it still sometimes reflects the 'wisdom of crowds.' The minorities are still underserved."

Technology can ... "Aid fundamentally human endeavors."

Book that was most recently on your nightstand: The Geography of Thought, by Richard Nisbett

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