Drag-and-drop data analytics

System lets nonspecialists use machine-learning models to make predictions for medical research, sales, and more.

In the Iron Man movies, Tony Stark uses a holographic computer to project 3-D data into thin air, manipulate them with his hands, and find fixes to his superhero troubles. In the same vein, researchers from MIT and Brown University have now developed a system for interactive data analytics that runs on touchscreens and lets everyone — not just billionaire tech geniuses — tackle real-world issues.

For years, the researchers have been developing an interactive data-science system called Northstar, which runs in the cloud but has an interface that supports any touchscreen device, including smartphones and large interactive whiteboards. Users feed the system datasets, and manipulate, combine, and extract features on a user-friendly interface, using their fingers or a digital pen, to uncover trends and patterns.