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Obama gets the big data bug

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Six US federal government agencies are putting more than $US200 million to try and wrap their heads around the dizzying world of “big data”.

The big-ticket buzzword hunt is being led by the White House Office of Science and Technology, along with the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, DARPA, and the US Geological Survey.

The NSF is to “extract and use knowledge from collections of large data sets to accelerate progress in science and engineering research”, and will fund research into algorithms and statistical methods, along with analytics and “e-science collaboration environments”.

The NSF’s early announcements include $10 million to UC Berkeley, whose Expeditions in Computing program is researching scalable machine learning algorithms, “datacenter-friendly programming environments” and computing infrastructure. It’s also backing a geosciences program called EarthCube, $US1.4 million for statistics research in biology, and $US2 million for university education in big data.

The NIH’s big data flagship is making its “1000 Genomes” project – described as the largest dataset on human genome variation – available on Amazon’s AWS.

The DoE’s initial contribution is to put $US5 million into the Scalable Data Management, Analysis and Visualization Institute, which it says will bring together experts from Berkeley, Argonne, Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Sandia National Laboratories, a slew of universities, and data visualization company Kitware.

From the DoD comes the announcement that in addition to its existing programs, it will announce “a series of open prize competitions” over the coming months, as well as another $US25 million to be spent annually by DARPA on developing new software tools.

The USGS is rolling grants distributed through its John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis into the White House big data initiative. ®

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