DIL State of the Lab Winter 2014-2015 - Page 13

WINTER 2014 Mezuri: Eight Questions for Eric Brewer By: Jordan Kellerstrass To provide a deeper sense of the story behind the development of the Mezuri Platform (described on page 12), we asked Eric Brewer, Mezuri’s principal investigator, the following questions. Brewer is a professor of computer science at UC Berkeley, where he leads the Technology and Infrastructure for Emerging Regions (TIER) research group. He is also Vice President of Infrastructure at Google. Thomas at Portland State has done the most work with real users (e.g., economists and NGOs) and real data with his SweetSense data collection system; his field experience is particularly valuable. Colleagues at University of Michigan are experts in novel sensors and high-volume, real-time data collection. Bringing these elements together is not easy, but I love the team we have. 1. What inspired the idea for Mezuri? The economic development space has a checkered history, which has led to more intensive efforts to “prove” that an intervention is effective and thus should be scaled up — these broadly fall under the phrase “measurement and evaluation,” or M&E for short. This has led to techniques like randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that really aim to meet this bar of proof. However, such an approach implies a significant data management problem: How do you collect, manage, and protect the data you need? The tools have been rudimentary, typically just laptops and Excel. The consequences are that it is easy to lose data, hard to share it, and even hard to know what exactly was done to the data since you got it. Eric Brewer is a professor of computer science at UC Berkeley, where he leads the Technology and Infrastructure for Emerging Regions (TIER) research group. TIER oversees development of the Mezuri Data Platform (Photo courtesy of Lisa Chipkin) 2. How does your background help guide Mezuri development? A key aspect of Mezuri is leveraging Cloud computing, which is an area of long-time interest for me (and roughly what I do at Google). The Cloud brings reliable data storage with access control, unlimited processing power, and the ability to share not only data but also best practices. Finally, done well, it provides ease of use, as users only need web access to participate and not their own servers or even data centers. 4. Why is this possible now? How is this project part of the story of computer science? The two big enablers for us are the Cloud for scalable data storage and computing, and the rise of mobile phones, especially smart phones, which enable high-quality surveys and data collection pretty much anywhere in the world. These two together will change not only the practice of “development” but are also one of the greatest shifts not only in computing, but in the history of the world. The impact of phones has already been rema ɭ