Informatics, innovation and ethics: 36 research projects explore big data

The SNSF is launching the National Research Programme ‘Big Data’, which aims to develop novel methods of information analysis, to create specific applications and to suggest solutions to the ethical and legal challenges posed by big data.

Several billion gigabytes of data are created each day. This mass of information offers new opportunities, but also raises many questions for society. Launched by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), the National Research Programme ‘Big Data’ (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. Research work on the 36 projects comprised within NRP 75 will continue until 2021.

Solutions to the challenges of big data

‘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,’ explains Christian S. Jensen, president of the NRP 75 Steering Committee. ‘Switzerland is very well positioned to carry out research into big data, since it has a highly educated population and remarkable infrastructures. NRP 75 wants to reinforce these capacities and develop specific applications that will be useful to the private and public sectors’.

The new research programme will focus on three topics. First, information technologies must develop new data analysis tools. In the second module, sociologists, ethicists and lawyers will address the societal and legal challenges raised by big data. Finally, researchers will work with industry and the public sector to develop specific applications.

NRP 75 has a budget of 25 million francs. At the beginning of November 2016, the SNSF approved 36 research projects out of the 172 proposals received. Research work will commence at 15 higher education institutions throughout Switzerland in 2017. The first results will be published by 2019. The synthesis of the programme will follow around the end of 2022.

The three axes of NRP 75

Information technology

Basic research remains crucial in the field of big data, and in the long term will provide a sound basis for the development of new applications. In particular, projects will develop novel data analysis methods and solutions to the problems confronting big data infrastructures such as database and computer centres.

Societal and legal challenges

Digitalisation is generating new analysis and forecasting options in a large number of fields such as trade, marketing, transport or human resources. The data produced raise fundamental issues of personal privacy that require sociological, ethical and legal analysis.

Applications

The researchers working in NRP 75 will develop specific applications for transport, health, disaster prevention, energy and basis research.


 
 
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