SEAS Alum: ‘Predictive Analytics is the Future’

Anasse Bari, SEAS MS ’10, CERT ’12, PhD ’12, a visiting professor in GW’s School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS), is making a name for himself in the field of predictive analytics (PA); he recently co-authored the book Predictive Analytics for Dummies.

Bari’s research focuses on predictive analytics with applications on social networks analytics, text mining and bioinformatics, and together with his GW doctoral adviser Professor Bellaachia, they developed an algorithm known as “Flock by Leader.”

Inspired by the physics of the natural behavior of birds, “Flock by leader” can be used to aggregate similar data from different sources, such tweets, Facebook posts, emails and let them flock (group) based on the similarities within each piece of data. The findings from each flock can help detect social media communities, determine the most influential individuals in an online social structure and predict social movements/trends.

We recently caught up with Bari to learn more about his cutting edge research, his GW students and his own GW experience:

GW: Tell us about your role as a visiting professor with SEAS.

AB: I usually teach on average 120 students a semester. The students are mostly undergraduates from various majors such as biomedical engineering, mechanical engineering, civil engineering, computer science and even international affairs. My courses range from introductory to advanced computer science classes.

In the introductory courses I try to teach my students a few of problems they would be expected to solve in the work place. They will have some fun and hands-on experience building software such as an ATM machine, a Starbucks point of sale, or a book store management system.

In the advanced undergraduate courses we cover the nuts and bolts of computer science such as: data structures, ways to organize data and creating algorithms with them. I also explain to students the latest techniques used by most social networks such as Facebook or Twitter to analyze data and extract useful insights such as community detection. In one of the assignments, they have to create an application similar to Facebook where they have to friend, unfriend, or search friends in a social network.

I also teach a graduate course, in the summer semester, Advanced Software Paradigms which consists of the leading technologies that most large companies use to engineer large scale software products.

GW: You recently co-authored a book with software engineer Tommy Jung and fellow alumnus Mohamed Chaouchi, SEAS MS ’05. When did you first conceive of the idea, and what was it like to collaborate on this project?

AB: I met Mohamed Chaouchi at GW in 2005. We took an advanced algorithm class together. He was one of the smartest classmates I had; I learned a lot from him. He was working at the National Institute of Health at that time doing cancer research. We both collaborated when we were students in many projects and we became good friends.

I met Tommy through Mohamed when I was attending an executive course at Stanford University in 2013. Tommy has done extensive research on natural language processing and algorithmic trading.  All of us met several times in Palo Alto coffee shops and had long discussions about the first draft of the table of content.

We thought it would be a great idea to write this book as we would be a great team and each one of us would bring different perspectives of Predictive Analytics. When we were invited by Wiley to write this book, we foresaw it as a unique opportunity to unify academic research and industry practice in a very important field such as Data Analytics. The “For Dummies” brand is probably the most recognized reference book in the world with over 200 million books in print. So it was a no-brainer for us to write this book.

GW: What are some of the key takeaways that the “everyday reader” can get from your book?

AB: Big data is being used everyday and on everyone. It affects your everyday life: from the ads you see on websites to the everyday decisions you make like which routes you take school or work. Big data aims to influence your every decision, so it is important that the “everyday reader” understands that this is happening.

In the perspective of the corporations: Data is growing exponentially every single day. Why not use it to their advantage over their competitors. By combining historical data, present data and algorithms, they are able to make smarter and better business decisions. Ideally, these business decisions should also mean better customer satisfaction and customer engagement.

GW: Why does this field inspire you?

AB: I predict that Predictive Analytics is the future. What about predicting the future is not interesting? I’m as fascinated by it as someone that regularly visits the local fortune teller or palm reader.

As far as education, it will be a much needed skill that companies will be looking for when it comes to hiring. Much research has been written about a huge shortage of this skill in the next several years. So I’m glad to be teaching this important skill to my students.

GW: You went to GW and now you’re part of the faculty. What makes the university special to you?

AB: I joined GW as a student the same year that President Knapp joined. Since then, I’ve attended many events that featured him—including 2010 event at my undergraduate alma mater, Al Akhawayn University in Morocco. He is a great leader and has given so much to the university.

I consider myself a permanent student of GW and I owe much of my success to the university. Teaching here is my way of giving back. Coming back to GW as a visiting professor has been a great and rewarding experience and I value every moment of it. It is that special attachment to GW faculty, staff and students that naturally leads me to do my best here.

As luck would have it, I was voted the 2014 Computer Science Professor of the Year. I am truly honored to have received that award. I dedicate the book to all my students, faculty and the GW Community.

GW: What do you think is on the horizon for your field?

AB: Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise were both right-on in their movie Minority Report (2002). In fact, we are moving towards a world where you not only predict crime as shown in the movie but also fraud, marriage, divorce, events, revolutions, votes.

Similarly, Spike Jonze pictured the future in the movie Her; he centered human life on what he called a life operating system that can manage humans’ lives.  He even suggested the possibility of an artificial system that can form friendships and relationships with humans.

We are at the beginnings of the Big Data revolution. When it is all said and done, corporations will use PA to make more money or stay competitive. Governments will use PA to provide better services. Customers will be benefactors of PA. No, we are not there yet, but more research is being done and hopefully we will see PA’s true potential.

–Melissa Nyman

To learn more about Bari’s book, visit

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