Like “innovation,” machine learning and artificial intelligence are commonplace terms that provide very little context for what they actually signify. AI/ML spans dozens of different fields of research, covering all kinds of different problems and alternative and often incompatible ways to solve them.
One robust area of research here that has antecedents going back to the mid-20th century is what is known as stochastic optimization — decision-making under uncertainty where an entity wants to optimize for a particular objective. A classic problem is how to optimize an airline’s schedule to maximize profit. Airlines need to commit to schedules months in advance without knowing what the weather will be like or what the specific demand for a route will be (or, whether a pandemic will wipe out travel demand entirely). It’s a vibrant field, and these days, basically runs most of modern life.
Warren B. Powell has been exploring this problem for decades as a researcher at Princeton, where he has operated the Castle Lab. He has researched how to bring disparate areas of stochastic optimization together under one framework that he has dubbed “sequential decision analytics” to optimize problems where each decision in a series places constraints on future decisions. Such problems are common in areas like logistics, scheduling and other key areas of business.
The Castle Lab has long had industry partners, and it has raised tens of millions of dollars in grants from industry over its history. But after decades of research, Powell teamed up (Read more...)