Massachusetts to tackle big data with MIT, Intel

Intel will establish the new Intel Science and Technology Center for Big Data at MIT

With several big data initiatives announced Wednesday at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Governor Deval Patrick said he wants to make the state a hub for big data research.

The Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) at MIT announced a new program called bigdata@CSAIL, which will make more sense of vast amounts of data generated by the financial, medical, social media and security industries.

"We'll organize the resources at MIT to advance research and train the next generation of data scientists," Patrick said.

Intel announced that it will establish the new Intel Science and Technology Center (ISTC) for Big Data at CSAIL.

"We are witnessing an unprecedented period of growth in unstructured digital data on the Web and in the cloud," said Intel CTO Justin Rattner. "This will only accelerate through the rapid growth of mobile devices and connected automobiles."

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Big data involves taking a deluge of information, sometimes thousands of gigabytes or more, and gleaning new knowledge and meaning. Science, finance and health stand to benefit from big data analysis because those fields typically deal with huge data sets.

MIT beat 55 other universities that applied to house the new ISTC and will include faculty research collaborators from the University of California at Santa Barbara, Portland State University, Brown University, the University of Washington and Stanford University. The ISTC at MIT will receive US$2.5 million a year for up to five years.

The ISTC will be led by MIT adjunct professor Samuel Madden, who said that the goal of bigdata@CSAIL is to "build software tools that scale beyond what conventional software platforms, like relational databases, can do."

Madden's own big data project, called CarTel, used sensors in cars to capture information about road conditions and traffic. In one experiment, his project used a phone's accelerometer to record where the biggest potholes in the city were, then geotagged and mapped them. In another experiment, he used car sensors to record traffic conditions and direct users along the least congested routes.

"It's a big data problem because it requires capturing data from potentially millions of vehicles on the road, combining it in real time and then doing relatively sophisticated analysis on top of this data to understand things," he said.

In order to reach the goal of becoming a big data hub, Governor Patrick described a multi-step process which includes a matching grant program, internship opportunities, a request for the Governor's Council on Innovation to see how big-data applications can improve government efficiency, and sponsorship of HackReduce, a Boston nonprofit.

Governor Patrick wouldn't say how much public funding big data would get, but said it wouldn't supplant funds from the private sector. The state could add up to 50,000 jobs in big data by the end of 2018, he said.

Nick Barber covers general technology news in both text and video for IDG News Service. E-mail him at and follow him on Twitter at @nickjb.

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