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'Big data' viewed as important driver of upstate innovation

Kate O'Connell

Big data is a growing area of interest within the US, and across the world. But what does it really mean, and what are the implications of its use?

Big data is a large volume of diverse data sets - like the text, pictures, video and interactive content on a site like Facebook - that are too big to be processed by traditional database and software techniques, and it has the potential to change the way we work in virtually every field.

Health care, basic research, energy production and cyber security; these are just a few of the areas in which large scale data sets are expected to make waves in the coming years.

The Capital Region’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) has recently taken a big step to position upstate New York as a leader in data-driven innovation.

RPI has announced a $100 million initiative to tackle the opportunities and challenges associated with big data, launching the Institute for Data Exploration and Applications, or IDEA.

Director of IDEA, Jim Hendler says currently big data is an invisible tool for analyzing information in the background, but could also drive innovation if commercialized as a product in its own right.

“Every 50 years roughly, a whole new power source for the human race is found."

“Every 50 years roughly, a whole new power source for the human race is found. This was chemical, then it was electrical, then it was nuclear. I actually believe that information, so not just data but data being used is the force of the future for this generation.”

Hendler says growing computing capacity and a wealth of information collected create regular opportunities for the open market.

But, there needs to be a serious discussion around the issue of data ethics, he says. Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.

In concert with the growing enthusiasm for the potential of big data, the Rochester Institute of Technology is preparing to launch a new qualification in the field for 2014.

WXXI/Finger Lakes Reporter for the Innovation Trail
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