Waikato pays tribute to open-source data mining trailblazer

The University of Waikato is mourning the passing of Emeritus Professor Ian Witten.

09 May 2023

Ian Witten

Professor Witten arrived at the University from Canada in 1992. An expert in computer software and digital technology, he helped establish the University’s international reputation in machine learning, data mining and digital libraries.

Digital library software he developed is now used by organisations including the BBC, New York Botanical Gardens and UNESCO. As Head of the University’s New Zealand Digital Library Research Group, Professor Witten oversaw the development of software that has been adopted in more than 60 countries and is used to collate information for large operations including disaster relief.

Best known for his open-source software, Professor Witten shared his advances with thousands of students, teachers and users around the world, including one of the world’s most widely-used data mining tools, Waikato Environment for Knowledge Analysis - WEKA, and the language learning systems FLAX.

University of Waikato Vice-Chancellor Professor Neil Quigley says Professor Witten created the first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) from a New Zealand university to teach users about WEKA in 2013.

“This course and the two that followed have been taken by thousands of learners around the world, and the associated videos on Youtube have been viewed millions of times.”

Professor Witten received many accolades acknowledging his work including the International Federation of Information Processing Namur Award in 2004, the Royal Society Te Apārangi Hector Medal in 2005, and a Kea Award in 2010.

During his time at the University of Waikato, Professor Witten received funding for five Marsden fund grants, and he supervised more than 40 masters and doctoral students. He made a significant contribution to the Computer Science department, co-authoring with many staff and implementing ongoing succession planning.

Ian was recognised by the University by being awarded the title of Emeritus Professor in 2014.

The University’s thoughts are with Ian’s family, colleagues and friends.

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