Unleashing the Power of Big Data

Last year, the Obama Administration announced the National Big Data Research and Development Initiative—a major step toward addressing the challenge and opportunity of “Big Data.”  Big Data are data sets so large, complex, or rapidly-generated that they can’t be processed by traditional information and communication technologies.  At its launch, the Big Data Initiative featured more than $200 million in new commitments from six Federal departments and agencies aiming to make the most of the explosion of Big Data and the tools needed to analyze it.

Every day, decision makers, resource manager, engineers, first-responders, scientists, and citizens are faced with a multitude of constantly flowing data streams coming from many sources, in many formats. Making sense of these volumes of Big Data requires cutting-edge tools and technologies that can analyze and extract useful knowledge from vast and diverse streams of information. Wrapping our arms around Big Data could lead to an array of important societal benefits—from empowering consumers with the full landscape of information they need to make optimal energy decisions; to enabling civil engineers to monitor and identify at-risk infrastructure; to informing more accurate predictions of natural disasters; and more.

As we enter the second year of the Big Data Initiative, the Obama Administration is encouraging multiple stakeholders, including federal agencies, private industry, academia, state and local government, non-profits, and foundations to develop and participate in Big Data initiatives across the country.  Of particular interest are partnerships designed to advance core Big Data technologies; harness the power of Big Data to advance national goals such as economic growth, education, health, and clean energy; use competitions and challenges; and foster regional innovation.

The National Science Foundation has issued a request for information encouraging stakeholders to identify Big Data projects they would be willing to support to achieve these goals.  And, later this year, OSTP, NSF, and other partner agencies in the Networking and Information Technology R&D (NITRD) program plan to convene an event that highlights high-impact collaborations and identifies areas for expanded collaboration between the public and private sectors.

Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation at OSTP

Fen Zhao is an AAAS Fellow at OSTP

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