Strange secrets hide in numbers. For instance, an orange used car is least likely to be a lemon. This particular unexpected finding came to light courtesy of a data jockey who goes by the Internet alias SirGuessalot, who in fact wasn`t guessing at all. Instead, he and his partner, PlanetThanet, relied on the hard math skills that make them top contenders in a sport tailor-made for the 21st century: competitive number-crunching.
The used car defect prediction contest is one of dozens hosted by San Francisco online startup Kaggle, whose creators believe they can tap the global geek population`s instinct for one-upmanship to mine better answers faster from the world`s ever-rising mountain of data.
"Competitions bring together a wide variety of people into a wide variety of problems," said Jeremy Howard, who became Kaggle`s president and chief scientist after winning multiple competitions himself. "You get people looking at stuff they`d never look at otherwise."
While the used car contest was fun, Kaggle has its eye on weightier scientific problems. In one contest, an English major who trained himself in data science built a model for predicting the progress of HIV infections in individual patients. In another, a scientist who studies glaciers for a living won a NASA-backed Kaggle competition to measure the shapes of galaxies by mapping the universe`s dark matter.
The data problems that need solving are so important that those who find the solutions should be paid like professional athletes, said Kaggle founder Anthony Goldbloom. By turning data-mining into a crowdsourced contest, he hopes he`s created a way to make that happen. Already one of Kaggle`s contests offers a multimillion dollar prize.
"We want to see the best data scientists earning more than Tiger Woods," said Goldbloom, who started the company in his native Australia and recently came to San Francisco`s South of Market...
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