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Mass. and MIT launching big data initiatives

Programs could make state center of digital field

Intel Corp. will contribute funds to the Intel Center.

Noah Berger/Bloomberg

Intel Corp. will contribute funds to the Intel Center.

Two new initiatives based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology could help make Massachusetts a global center for the emerging field of “big data” — the ability to quickly dissect and understand floods of digital information.

On Wednesday, MIT will host a press event to unveil bigdata@CSAIL, an industry-sponsored research group that will bring together the work of more than 25 MIT professors and researchers; and the Intel Science and Technology Center for Big Data at CSAIL.

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Both will be hosted by the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, or CSAIL, at MIT. Although the budget for bigdata@CSAIL was not disclosed, the Intel Center will receive $2.5 million a year for five years from Intel Corp., the Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip maker with operations in Hudson.

Massachusetts officials will also reveal on Wednesday several new state programs aimed at supporting an emerging cluster of big data research.

“This is about the realization that big data is a very promising growth area,” said Greg Bialecki, state secretary of housing and economic development. “The state is well positioned to take the lead in this area.”

As consumers and businesses generate more and more digital information, databases are growing too large for conventional analysis tools to manage. Big data research is aimed at making sense of these torrents of data, in fields as varied as social research and medical records.

The Intel Center, bigdata@CSAIL, and the new state initiatives represent the promise for growth in this burgeoning technology sector, Bialecki said.

‘The state is well positioned to take the lead.’

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Massachusetts has more than 100 companies that focus on big data technologies, from digital information storage giant EMC Corp. based in Hopkinton to Echo Nest Corp., a Somerville start-up that is using the technology to figure out what types of songs people will like, based on their musical preferences.

Employment in the Massachusetts big data sector is expected to more than double over the next six years, adding an estimated 15,000 jobs, according to a recent report by the Mass Technology Leadership Council.

The state will form a group known as the Big Data Consortium, a committee led by Massachusetts academia and industry, according to Bialecki.

Together with the nonprofit Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, the consortium will develop a matching grant program for big data projects.

A number of big data companies and venture capital firms will also join the collaborative to sponsor “Hack/Reduce,” a nonprofit center in Boston where people working with big data can share infrastructure resources and knowledge.

And the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center in Holyoke, a $163 million facility scheduled to be completed by the end of this year, will be designated as a resource for big data research in the state, Bialecki said.

No state funding has been earmarked for the new initiatives, according to Bialecki, although officials will seek support from Massachusetts-based academic institutions and businesses. Research conducted by the bigdata@CSAIL initiative will focus on domains such as finance, medicine, social media, and security. Sam Madden, an MIT associate professor and leader of bigdata@CSAIL, said one project would be “to develop more sophisticated tools for in-depth processing of medical information, which could lead to more accurate diagnostic techniques and better treatment methods for patients.”

Intel chose CSAIL for its new big data research center after a competition involving several major universities. Although the center will be based at MIT, researchers at six other educational institutions, including Brown University in Rhode Island, will participate remotely.

“Big data is massive, it’s unstructured, and it changes rapidly,” said Pradeep Dubey, director of the Parallel Computing Lab at the Intel’s California headquarters. “Our aim will be to make it more useful to individuals and companies.”

D.C. Denison can be reached at denison@globe.com.
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