MIT Reports to the President 1994-95

Decision Sciences Program

The explosive development of new sources of information and the continuing emergence of ready access to faster and more powerful computers have created both enormous potential and considerable need for more informed decision making. The Decision Sciences Program (DSP) aims to exploit these opportunities by developing innovative educational and research programs and by working closely with industry. Drawing upon several fields of science, engineering and management, decision sciences is an interdisciplinary topic emerging in importance in many industries in both service and manufacturing sectors. It is a field that helps to guide individuals and public and private organizations in making informed decisions, often concerning the effective use of scarce financial, human, and technical resources.


Professor Thomas L. Magnanti, George Eastman Professor of Management Science, serves as the Program's Director, and Professor Richard C. Larson, as its Associate Director (Professor Larson was on sabbatical this past year). The Center coordinates the efforts of approximately 20 affiliated faculty and senior research staff drawn from all five schools at MIT.


A primary goal of the new program is to support graduate education in the decision sciences at MIT, enriching ongoing programs like those at the Operations Research Center, and creating new opportunities in areas like statistics and decision processes.

The disciplinary base of the decision sciences ranges from behavioral decision theory and psychology to applied mathematics, economics, operations research, optimal control, and statistics, all topics that help inform individuals and organizations in making decisions. Recognizing the interdisciplinary nature of the field, the DSP attempts to draws upon existing resources and expertise in other several MIT centers and programs, including the Operations Research Center, the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems, the Center for Transportation Studies, the Leaders for Manufacturing Program, the Center for Educational Computing Initiatives, and the Center for Computational Research in Economics and Management Science.

This past year, DSP faculty have been working as part of a larger joint School of Engineering and Sloan School of Management team to develop a new joint graduate program, Systems Design and Management. The new program will offer four distance learning courses next Spring, three taught by DSP affiliated faculty.

The DSP faculty have also been reviewing the MIT graduate offering in statistics, developing a course and exam for the PhD Program in statistics that emphasizes MIT strengths in applications and in allied fields such as operations research.


The Decision Sciences Program aims to promote cross disciplinary research in both underlying theory and applications. Two such efforts are underway.

Air Transportation Management

Under a Memorandum of Understanding with the Center for Advanced Aviation System Development (CAASD) of the MITRE Corporation, the DSP Program has undertaken a multi-year collaborative effort to conduct research in the general domain of air transportation. A major research initiative for this collaboration is currently funded by the FAA. Professor Amedeo R. Odoni serves as the principle investigator for this effort. As part of this umbrella agreement, MITRE supports summer interns from the Center and will exchanges visitors with MIT. One such visitor, a senior MITRE scientist, spent the Fall 1994 term in residence at MIT studying the implications of weather forecasting on air traffic control. During this past year, three PhD students completed theses supported by the air transportation management program. DSP is coordinating its efforts in this general arena with MIT's Flight Transportation Laboratory.

Transactional Data Laboratory

Frequently, when individuals or organizations make transactions, they generate considerable data. Examples are bar-code scanned data from supermarkets, customer interaction data from Automatic Teller Machines (ATM's), materials movement and position data from assembly lines, stocks and options trading data, point of sale data from retailers, and satellite data giving estimates of vehicle locations. The DSP aims to develop a Transactional Data Laboratory that interprets and discovers ways to better utilize such data. Equipped with a sample of new transactional data acquisition technologies, the laboratory will resemble traditional laboratories at MIT. In addition to computers, the laboratory will include examples of data acquisition technologies that are creating enormous (gigabyte) data warehouses. This past year several MIT faculty, working with faculty from other universities and with a few individuals from industry, have developed research proposal for the Transactional Data Laboratory. In addition, Professor Anantaram Balakrishnan and Dr. Nitin Patel have been working with Hewlett-Packard to develop methodology and applications for extracting and utilizing transactional data in the context of electronics assembly operations. These efforts require developing new models for structuring, understanding, and exploiting massive amounts of information for problem diagnostics, planning, and improvement.

The Decision Sciences Program functions as a virtual program, with very modest infrastructure (space, staff). Its intent is to be a new type of organizational entity at MIT that helps to stimulate and coordinate initiatives that cut across traditional Institute departments, centers, and laboratories. It also aims to develop new initiatives that might not normally fit into existing organizational entities. The support of statistics at the Institute, the MITRE collaboration and FAA research grant, and the Transactional Data Laboratory are examples of the types of activities that DSP seeks to develop as part of this overall mission.

Thomas L. Magnanti

MIT Reports to the President 1994-95