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March, 29th 2012
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By Brenda Dietrich
IBM Business Analytics Chief Technology Officer

Back in the 1960s, U.S. Federal government funding of computing and networking technologies laid the foundation for the Internet and many of the other advances in computing and communications that we now enjoy—everything from Facebook to smartphones. Today’s announcement by the White House of a “Big Data Research and Development Initiative” could help achieve similar advances for the economy and society. As a longtime researcher in data analytics, I’m thrilled to see this happening and I can’t wait to be part of it.

The government said today that six federal departments and agencies will invest a total of $200 million in research by universities, non-profit institutes and corporations, with the goal of greatly improving the tools and techniques needed to access, organize, and glean discoveries from huge volumes of digital data.

At IBM, we’ve been zeroing in on big data for several years. We believe the combination of data from the Web, communications networks, governments and businesses, and tens of millions of sensors means humanity has the potential to understand how the world works better than ever before so we can make better decisions and enjoy better outcomes. That’s the basis of our Smarter Planet agenda.

I see the government’s initiative today as an important step in assuring U.S. competitiveness in the years ahead. Data is becoming the new strategic natural resource for the 21st century—like petroleum was in the 20th century. By understanding data signals, our government, our businesses and our economy can be more dynamic and successful.

The challenge facing us all is coming up with ways of handling all of that data efficiently and effectively. Much of the government funding will go to university research, which is good. These days, many of the brightest PhD students are recruited into industry after they finish their studies, so their discoveries are quickly channeled into new technologies, products and services.

At the same time, the government is encouraging government, corporate and university researchers to share data and the tools of analysis. One of the grants announced today will be shared by the newly formed Rutgers Discovery Informatics Institute, which is a partnership between Rutgers University and IBM. The grant is part of a Department of Energy project to develop techniques for visualizing the incredible amounts of data generated by the department’s supercomputers.

In the past, researchers tended to work in institutional silos. That slowed progress. Now we have a huge opportunity to shift data analysis from being a craft being done by individuals to a large collective intelligence—where people share data, tools and a common computing infrastructure. This will make more knowledge available to more people, and to society, more quickly

IBM has a long history of working with the government on big projects involving data. Early in our history, our Hollerith machines processed national census data. In the 1930s, we helped the Federal government to design and operate the Social Security System, which was the largest data processing task that had ever been attempted. Today, the challenge is Big Data. We look forward to playing a role of turning Big Data into big progress for businesses and society.

 

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