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Big data creates more buzz as gov’t pledges £73m to unlock its potential

The Universities and Science Minister David Willetts has unveiled £73 million of new funding to help unlock the potential of ‘big data’.

Although it’s been around for a while in various guises, we have noticed here at FMJ the emergence of “Big Data” as this year’s buzz word. More specifically in the form of using socially gathered data such as social media posts and likes, web sales and mobile phone data to spot buying trends or highlight health issues, such as a potential flu epidemic, food poisoning outbreak or identify travel problems such as road traffic accidents and bottlenecks. In the built environment, the development of facial recognition software that can identify if an office occupant is too hot or too cold is just the tip of the iceberg for big data’s usage.

Speaking at a GovNet conference on high performance computing and big data yesterday, David Willetts outlined details of the projects that help bring large sets of complex data into usable formats that can inform research and analysis.

The 55 projects receiving investment will drive innovation in a number of diverse areas, including developing a better understanding of human disease, tackling obesity and solving transport problems.

 Universities and Science Minister David Willetts ,said:

“Big data is one of the eight great technologies of the future and a priority for government. It has the potential to transform public and private sector organisations, drive research and development, increase productivity and innovation, and enable market-changing products and services.”

The new big data investments are:

  • The Medical Research Council (MRC) will be investing £50 million in bioinformatics, which uses many areas of computer science, statistics, mathematics and engineering to process biological data. Benefits include an improved understanding of human disease
  • The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) has £4 million of funding for 21 new open data projects. They will make large data sets that ordinarily only academics would have access to accessible to the general public. For example, Lancaster University is working on a project that will ‘unlock’ many thousands of musical scores which are stored online as frozen images, opening them up to a new generation of musicians
  • The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) will invest £14 million in 4 new research centres at Essex, Glasgow, UCL and Leeds Universities. The centres will make data from private sector organisations and local government accessible to researchers investigating anything from transport to obesity. At present the data is being collected by these organisations, but is not being used for research purposes. This is phase 2 of the data network. Phase 1 was set up to get information from government departments
  • The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) has £4.6 million of funding for 24 projects to help the UK research community take advantage of existing environmental data. One project will digitalise images of the solar disc, taken as early as the 1900s, to help inform our understanding of severe space weather risks

It is estimated that the big data market will benefit the UK economy by £216 billion and create 58,000 new jobs before 2017.

The government is supporting the UK’s data infrastructure, most recently with £189 million of funding for big data in the Autumn Statement 2012.




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