Math co-op students bring fresh perspective to AI and big data work

The growth of data is transforming our world. When collected, it can drive insights to assist in making better decisions across industries.

Between 2019 and 2025, as organizations conduct more business online and increasingly use social networks and mobile devices, the amount of data collected will triple. This data has important stories to tell. Software company Applied Brain Research (ABR), founded by Waterloo alums, has developed a new kind of artificial intelligence (AI) that mimics human neural networks.  

“We have developed new AI algorithms that allow us to put speech and language AI networks onto extremely small chips,” says Peter Suma (MASc’ 17), CEO of ABR. “This could have a children's toy talk in full sentences or make your car easier to deal with less structured command words. Devices will interact more easily while saving a lot of energy.” 

Math is key in data analysis 
ABR also uses data to develop AI for industries like automotive, semiconductors and military research groups. Their work has large environmental impacts. “Machine learning models that people are developing are enormous. Training a large-scale model can take weeks with large amounts of computing resources, consuming incredible amounts of energy,” says Peter Blouw (PhD’ 17), senior research scientist and head of advanced projects at ABR. “We're building advanced technology that introduces new capabilities that can be incorporated in businesses across the world. We're building machine learning models in a very energy-efficient way that preserves privacy by processing data directly on user devices.” 

To make strides in ABR’s work, mathematical skills such as statistical modelling and optimization methods are essential. The organization consistently hires Math co-op students to assist on projects. “Once trained our co-op students have ownership over a particular aspect of a given project, such as designing and testing the performance of a machine learning model that classifies time-series data,” says Blouw. “We’ve been very impressed with their knowledge, professionalism and ability to solve problems with minimal supervision.”  

Data provides valuable insights  
Despite a slowdown in 2020, hiring in data-related jobs is on the rise and new job titles are emerging like the analytics engineer. There is growing investment in data capabilities with the market projected to be worth $103 billion by 2023. Today, 97.2 per cent of organizations are investing in data and AI including investing in talent with the skills to handle data. 

Albert Zhang is a co-op student utilizing his data skills in the retail food industry. Albert is a fourth-year international student studying Statistics. He spent a co-op work term as a marketing analyst at Hello Fresh. “When I started at Hello Fresh, they were transitioning to a fully data-driven organization. Every decision they make is based on data. They needed someone with a math background to bring fresh perspectives to the team,” says Albert.  

Albert worked on building a performance dashboard that tracked partners of the Hello Fresh brand and subsidiary companies for customer insights. He also analyzed data to evaluate the success of marketing initiatives and the customer’s journey. 

According to Albert, data tells stories for impact. “Using data can change the ways business operates. A theory is like a narrative and data is the evidence that backs up what you are trying to convey,” he says. “Data gives you insights on the goals of the project, what you are trying to get your audience to focus on or make changes for the better.”  

By 2028, experts expect 18,000 new jobs will be created for data analysts and administrators. Only 16,700 new job seekers (arising from graduates, immigration and mobility) are available to fill these positions. These jobs will be on the rise in both tech and non-traditional tech industries as data can create significant change. Hiring a co-op student can help your organization to get a head start finding data talent