Harrisburg startup seeks to transform data

Andy Milone, contributing writer//June 3, 2019

Harrisburg startup seeks to transform data

Andy Milone, contributing writer//June 3, 2019

In a pile of data, 10 may look like just another number.

But when that 10 is plugged into a Harrisburg startup’s new tech platform – essentially a bunch of computers that talk to each other – it becomes a number with a purpose.

Andrew Hacker, founder of Thought
Andrew Hacker, founder of Thought (Photo: Submitted)

The startup is Thought, founded and led by Andrew Hacker, a faculty member at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology.

He and his team are in the midst of creating a platform that can take bits of computer data, like numbers, and provide them with the context, or set of rules and logic. This added context, called an application, creates a hybrid of both data and application.

By eliminating the need for an outside application and providing the application earlier in the life of the data, Thought hopes to transform the efficiency of data across industries and save costs in a world where more and more terabytes of data are piling up every day, requiring what’s known as big data analytics to understand it all.

“Since every little piece of our data has some application piece to it, we can model anything,” Hacker said. “We can model any kind of big data analytics, formula or even an artificial intelligence algorithm.”

For example, a person’s oxygen level is just a number until an application provides a set of rules to decide whether the number is low enough to indicate a person is having trouble breathing and requires assistance. The application could also help provide some background as to why a person may be having trouble breathing, as well as the quality of the data generated.

Hacker has been refining the concept since early 2012, when he was working as Pennsylvania’s deputy chief information security officer. He came to Harrisburg University in 2015 and took part in the university’s accelerator program after hearing positive feedback from university leadership, including President Eric Darr.

In addition to honing the idea, he has been striving to ensure it stays relevant.

“Technology in the external world changes very quickly, so even though the core of the idea was always the same throughout, we evolved as time went on,” he said.

Hacker is now the cybersecurity expert in residence at Harrisburg University. At Thought, he works with a team of six other professionals with computer science and engineering backgrounds on the Harrisburg University campus, as well as a varying number of Harrisburg University interns. Hacker has an electrical engineering background.

With the exception of some funding from Harrisburg University, Hacker has largely funded the operation on his own.

Thought’s technology is between the alpha and beta stage, meaning its components are in place but not tested to a level of confidence where it is ready to hit the market and handle the volume of data generated by a large enterprise. Mid-2020 is the target for full release.

Hacker said Thought’s main market will be companies that produce or consume lots of data in fields like health care, supply chain, logistics and transportation.

Hacker also envisions the platform helping to spur the growth of smart cities in Pennsylvania with data from incompatible systems, like energy, health care, water supply or transportation, working together. Hacker defined Pennsylvania’s current data-sharing procedure as “cumbersome,” one involving paper contracts and lots of hoops. Rather than using paper, Hacker said the contractual information will sit inside each piece of data.

Prioritizing security

Another feature of Thought’s platform is its security. It will assign ownership rights to the generators of data and essentially block others from using it, or stealing it, for their own gain without consent.

“If we can protect all that information and also mark it, secure it and then maybe put a little tag in there that says this belongs to this person, but (also) have a little bit of application code in there, we can actually put rules in there that say this data belongs to this person; it’s for this purpose; you can’t do anything else with it,” Hacker said.

If data is stolen, the owner could be notified, and then the data would able to self-destruct.

Hacker hopes the platform’s users will be able to decide if they want to monetize and sell their personal data with the help of its blockchain structure.