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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Big Data—The Internet and Beyond

In her speech at The Royal Academy of Engineering, Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson spoke about the opportunities and challenges of Big Data.

“We ... have unprecedented capabilities in data access, aggregation, and analysis, and in high performance computation.

  • The Internet is the new library—with more information than any one individual can ingest;
  • Social networking leaves behind ‘digital crumbs’ for us to follow and study;
  • Sensors and networks are embedded in everything from buildings to automobiles to cameras, to satellites, and are creating what often is referred to as the ‘Internet of Things.’

“All of this produces trillions of bits of unstructured data, often in differing formats. The resultant collection of massive data sets, known as ‘Big Data,’ is more accessible today and shared more widely than ever before. The ability to process that data in an efficient and relatively inexpensive way provides us with new bases for decision-making. It, also, brings data to more participants, and allows them to manipulate it to discover patterns heretofore invisible.”

The challenge is to make sense of all of this data. “It requires us to break out of disciplinary silos, exploit new technological tools, employ high performance computing, data aggregation, and analytics,” —President Shirley Ann Jackson

The challenge is to make sense of all of this data. “It requires us to break out of disciplinary silos, exploit new technological tools, employ high performance computing, data aggregation, and analytics, ” she continued.

The university recently announced a new university-wide initiative to tackle these challenges. The newly created Rensselaer Institute for Data Exploration and Applications (IDEA) brings together and fortifies the wealth of data science, high performance computing, predictive analytics, data visualization, and cognitive computing research.

"If we make intelligent use of the tools at our disposal, we can better model planetary systems, or global systems relating to, for example, the flow of water or power, allowing for better allocation of scarce resources. We can use predictive analytics to make better decisions in every field, assessing, for example, how a new nanomaterial is likely to behave under the kinetic conditions of manufacturing—or how to design new cities to make them as energy-efficient as possible,” Dr. Jackson indicated.

Rensselaer researchers are working across campus on the forefront of Big Data research.

  • Jim Hendler, widely recognized as one of the inventors of the semantic web, is working to enable users to find, link, query, visualize, and share data as it moves from ‘big’ to ‘broad.’ Read more.
  • Watson—the IBM innovation that beat Jeopardy!’s all-time champions—has become part of the research team at Rensselaer. The location of the Watson technology on campus will enable faculty and students an opportunity to find new uses for Watson and deepen the systems’ cognitive capabilities. Read more.
  • Under the leadership of Constellation Professor Deborah McGuinness, the computer and web scientists within the Tetherless World Constellation at Rensselaer are working with the the IARPA Foresight and Understanding from Scientific Exposition (FUSE) team to help automate portions of the technological process of identifying emerging technologies. Read more.
  • Research produced with the aid of Rensselaer computer scientist Petros Drineas—used DNA analysis to unearth the previously unknown origin of the Minoan civilization. Read more.