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“Data, Data Everywhere…“ [Timandra Harkness @ BBC]


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Big Data on the BBC
December 12th, 2013

“This isn’t just data… it’s Big Data” – so speaks Timandra Harkness, journalist, writer and presenter of BBC Radio 4′s recent documentary. And Timandra is right; despite the corporate buzz-wordiness that has somewhat hijacked the term, there is something special about the image “Big Data” conjures in the mind’s eye. It’s appropriate, then, that the discovery of the Higgs boson at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, and the role of the huge computing effort (in which the UK’s GridPP played an important part), takes center stage in this fascinating 28 minutes looking at how big data is shaping all aspects of life in the 21st century.

But it’s not just the quest for the “God Particle” (thanks, Timandra) that has benefitted from data scientists – hailed as the “rockstars of statistics” – bringing to bear the might of systems such as GridPP on data-heavy problems. As Prof. Tim Hubbard (King’s College, London) points out, “biology has suddenly become a big data world” – and indeed, projects such as this one at Queen Mary, University of London have benefited from being able to sift for correlations in vast datasets; in this case to spot a common root for echolocation in the bat and dolphin genomes.

Attention then turns to the impact Big Data has – and could have – on society as a whole. There are already plenty of businesses mining and/or refining (depending on your data metaphor of choice) the “fire-hose” of 1s and 0s generated by consumers and social media-ers, as well as the banks that surf the data tsunami of the financial markets – but an interesting point is raised about the willingness and ability of Government to harness the potential benefits Big Data could offer its citizens. Whatever the situation, our host concludes, what ultimately matters is the data scientists themselves – the people who have the skills and the tools needed to “turn data into something useful”. GridPP has plenty of those – and as it happens, they’ve just produced a handy introduction to how they could help you too.



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