M&E Daily

NASA JPL CIO Explores Hollywood Similarities With Space Exploration

LOS ANGELES — Randi Levin, CIO for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), sees a lot of similarities between the technology needs for Hollywood and for space exploration. And not just because her career shows her well-versed in both.

“Hollywood has very creative, talented people, and is very innovative in different areas,” she said March 4 during a keynote presentation at the Smart Content Summit. “You wouldn’t think engineers and scientists would be creative and innovative, but they really are, doing things that have never been done before. Their IT demands are very similar to those for Hollywood.”

A former CTO for the City of Los Angeles, Levin brings more than 30 years of IT experience to her job, with previous stints as CIO for Cast & Crew and Forest Lawn, VP of worldwide corporate systems for NBCUniversal and the Walt Disney Co., and more. She’s taken the lessons she learned in Hollywood to her work at JPL, helping JPL win an Emmy last year for Outstanding Original Interactive Program, thanks to JPL’s coverage of the InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) mission to Mars.

“I think JPL loves Hollywood, because we love to put out all sorts of content around whatever scientific things, or launches there are,” Levin said.

The scientific community deals in major volumes of data, Levin noted, and the engineering community needs specialized, high-performance computing. ”The demand for AI and ML right now is skyrocketing, no pun intended,” she said. Those are issues the media and entertainment industry grapples with as well.

Next up, In July, the Mars 2020 rover lifts off, and JPL will be all over sharing coverage of that launch, she added. “We’re trying to do some more new and different things to get everybody engaged in the process, and use all aspects of social media and TV,” she said.

“The petabytes of data that are going to come down on an hourly basis, and they’ll want to retain every single bit of raw data, [creates] a data problem,” Levin said, adding that JPL has recently created a chief data officer role to help with that issue. “The scientific community is actually way ahead in terms of identifying data, the longevity and lifecycle of data, but the engineering and business community not so much.”

Just like Hollywood, JPL looks to companies like Amazon Web Services (AWS) for tech help, and the July launch will see JPL use AWS’s cloud services like never before, Levin said, with JPL working with AWS to improve its high-performance computing in the cloud.

There is major difference Levin has noted between the work environments of Hollywood and JPL: “You can’t make the joke about rocket scientists there, because everyone is one,” she said. “Every now and then someone says they hate the email system, and are going to create a new one. They’re very demanding.”

The Smart Hollywood Summit was sponsored by TapeArk and Seagate, Whip Media Group, EIDR, BeBanjo, Cinelytic, Frame.io, Sohonet, Spherex and Sony, and produced by the Media & Entertainment Services Alliance (MESA) and the Smart Content Council.