Government Launches Research Initiative To Harness 'Big Data'

On Thursday, the Obama administration announced a new initiative designed to harness massive amounts of information -- including health care data -- for research purposes, the New York Times reports (Lohr, New York Times, 3/29).

Using Big Data

The "Big Data Research and Development Initiative" aims to uncover innovative ways to use "Big Data" for scientific discovery, biomedical research and other purposes (Smith, National Journal, 3/29).

Big Data refers to information that can be gleaned from diverse data sources, such as biological and industrial sensors, the Internet and social networking tools. By using advanced computing tools to analyze Big Data, researchers can identify trends and make scientific discoveries.

Agencies Involved

The six government agencies and departments that are committing more than $200 million to the effort are the:

  • Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency;
  • Department of Defense;
  • Department of Energy;
  • National Institutes of Health;
  • National Science Foundation; and
  • U.S. Geological Survey.

As part of the Big Data initiative, NIH and NSF plan to collaborate on a project to find new technologies and methods for data analysis, data management and machine learning.

Descriptions of Big Data projects planned by the other government departments are available from a White House release.

Farnam Jahanian -- head of NSF's computer and information science and engineering directorate -- said, "Data, in my view, is a transformative new currency for science, engineering, education, commerce and government." He added, "Foundational research in data management and data analytics promises breakthrough discoveries and innovations across all disciplines" (New York Times, 3/29).

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