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Switzerland launches big data national effort

A total of 36 research projects will explore challenges posed by big data in informatics infrastructure and ethics

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Research has begun on 36 big data research projects funded through the Swiss National Research Programme “Big Data” (NRP 75), to develop new tools for analysing data and to answer the ethical and legal challenges of mass data collection and use.

With a budget of CHF25 million, NRP 75 will only fund projects developed in Switzerland only with Swiss-based researchers, says Béatrice Miller, the head of knowledge transfer at NRP 75.

The amount of data stored online is doubling its size every two years, and humans are expected to create and copy over 44 trillion gigabytes of data by 2020. To deal with the deluge, novel ways of storing and analysing data are needed. Projects are expected to develop novel data analysis methods and solutions to the problems faced by big data infrastructures.

Whereas businesses are adapting more quickly to the disruption created by big data, governments are slow to react, as the deluge of digital information has left lots of grey areas when it comes to ethical concerns relating to personal privacy, which requires sociological, ethical and legal analysis.

To solve these issues NRP 75 aims to develop Switzerland’s competences in the field of big data and will focus equally on scientific and technical aspects and governance issues.

 “It is crucial that both politicians and the judiciary are able to adapt laws and regulations quickly in order to facilitate effective use of Big Data and avoid negative effects,” says Christian Jensen, president of the NRP 75 Steering Committee.

The new research programme is divided in three modules. The first tackles the development of new data analysis tools, in the second module sociologists, ethicists and lawyers will address the societal and legal challenges raised by big data, while in the final module researchers will work with industry and the public sector to develop practical applications.

Research work on the 36 projects will continue until 2021, with the first results to be published by 2019. A synthesis of the programme will be made public by the end of 2022.

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Related subjects: Switzerland, data protection, big data