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President Obama. (White House photo)

“Big data” is perhaps the hottest buzzword in technology these days. And now President Obama is jumping on the bandwagon, announcing a new $200 million R&D initiative today that’s designed to make better sense of the mountains of data being created and collected across a number of scientific disciplines, from biotechnology to geology.

“By improving our ability to extract knowledge and insights from large and complex collections of digital data, the initiative promises to help solve some the nation’s most pressing challenges,” according to a release announcing the new effort.

As part of the program, six federal departements and agencies will receive $200 million in commitments, money that

“In the same way that past Federal investments in information-technology R&D led to dramatic advances in supercomputing and the creation of the Internet, the initiative we are launching today promises to transform our ability to use Big Data for scientific discovery, environmental and biomedical research, education, and national security,” said Dr. John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The goals of the new  “Big Data Research and Development Initiative” are:

  • Advance state-of-the-art core technologies needed to collect, store, preserve, manage, analyze, and share huge quantities of data.
  • Harness these technologies to accelerate the pace of discovery in science and engineering, strengthen our national security, and transform teaching and learning; and
  • Expand the workforce needed to develop and use Big Data technologies.

In addition to those goals, the new initiative is designed to spark more scientists and engineers who are schooled in the complexities of analyzing data. As part of that effort, a new $10 million Expeditions in Computing project will be established at University of California, Berkeley. The effort will be focused on new approaches for turning data into information via machine learning, cloud computing, and crowd sourcing.

Meanwhile, the Department of Defense is investing $250 million annually on new ways to “make truly autonomous systems that can maneuver and make decisions on their own.” Other technologies will help military experts extract information from texts in any language, mining the information to make soldiers more prepared on the battlefield.  The DoD plans to host open prize competitions in the coming months to accelerate some of those technologies, and spark even more innovation.

In addition, the National Institutes of Health announced that the world’s largest set of data on human genetic variation – produced by the international 1000 Genomes Project – is now freely available on the Amazon Web Services. AWS is storing the 1000 Genomes Project as a publically available data set for free and researchers only will pay for the computing services that they use.

“We’re excited to help scientists gain access to this important data set by making it available to anyone with access to the Internet,” said said Deepak Singh, Ph.D. and Principal Product Manager at Amazon Web Services. “This means researchers and labs of all sizes and budgets have access to the complete 1000 Genomes Project data and can immediately start analyzing and crunching the data without the investment it would normally require in hardware, facilities and personnel. Researchers can focus on advancing science, not provisioning the resources required for their research.”

Other projects announced today include the Department of Energy’s Scientific Discovery Through Advanced Computing initiative and the US Geological Survey’s Big Data for Earth System Science program which will help understand issues such as species response to climate change, earthquake recurrence rates, and the next generation of ecological indicators.

A Webcast about the new program will air today at 11 a.m. Pacific time.

 

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