Storing and dealing with data has always been an issue in the age of computing. But in the modern world, with its booming online traffic and transactions and digital sensors in more and more devices, data is ballooning, with gigabytes now measured in the trillions each year.
MIT President Susan Hockfield sees opportunity in that sea of ones and zeros.
"Truly tantalizing opportunities to fish out from that overwhelming flood of new knowledge and new meaning," Hockfield said.
The problem is, the computers of today can’t handle the data of today, much less tomorrow’s. The old mainframe searching a database just doesn’t cut it anymore. Entirely new systems and analytical processes have to be developed to make sense of "big data" in real time.
That’s at the heart of MIT’s new effort in conjunction with Intel Corp., who is opening a big data research center at the university.
Justin Rattner, the company’s chief technology officer, says Intel chose MIT from 55 institutions that applied.
"Intel recognizes MIT as one of the few places in the world that brings together computer architects, machine learning experts and, most importantly, computational scientists," Rattner said, "who have the domain-specific knowledge in such diverse fields as finance, medicine and information security."
Intel will spend $12.5 million over the next five years to put some of its researchers in Cambridge alongside brains from MIT. And it’s not just the California chip-maker: AIG, Massachusetts’ own EMC, Thomson Reuters and SAP are all chipping in to partner with MIT. And that gives some hope to the head of the MIT’s big data effort, professor Sam Madden.
"I see all of our students going off to these startup companies and these Internet companies on the West Coast and it really depresses me," Madden said. "And I’m hoping this will be something that will encourage our students to stay here and innovate here rather than going to many of your companies on the West Coast."
Madden’s wish is also an official one of the state. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick was at the announcement Wednesday to pledge state support by developing an industry consortium, creating matching grants and a new internship program.
"Our big data initiative, alongside private investment, will position the commonwealth as a leader in a growing, global industry and help us become the premier destination for big data," Patrick said.
Massachusetts does have competition in California. The major Internet and computer companies out there are already doing exciting things with big data. But after ceding its computing primacy to the West Coast by missing out on the personal computing and Internet revolutions, Massachusetts may have a chance at redemption.
This program aired on May 31, 2012.