CSAIL Tackles Big Data

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In May 2012, CSAIL announced a major new initiative to tackle the challenges of the burgeoning field known as “big data” -- data collections that are too big, growing too fast, or are too complex for existing information technology systems to handle. The announcement was made at an MIT event attended by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who simultaneously announced a new statewide initiative to establish Massachusetts as a hub of big data research. Additionally, Intel Corporation announced that it is establishing the new Intel Science and Technology Center (ISTC) for Big Data at CSAIL.

“Thanks to the proliferation of highly interactive websites, social networks, online financial transactions, and sensor-equipped devices, we are awash in data,” said Sam Madden, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT and leader of the “bigdata@CSAIL” initiative. “With the right tools, we can begin to make sense of the data and use it to solve any number of pressing societal problems ‑- but our existing tools are outdated and rooted in computer systems and technologies developed in the 1970s.
“With this new initiative,” Madden continued, “we aim to develop a new generation of technologies to store, manage, analyze, share, and understand the huge quantities of data we are now collecting.”
The bigdata@CSAIL initiative will bring together leaders from academia, industry and government to develop sophisticated techniques for capturing, processing, analyzing, storing and sharing big data, with the overall goal of making it more useful for society as a whole. Experts in hardware and software development, theoretical computer science, and computer security will come together to develop new architectures capable of sorting and storing massive quantities of information, as well as the algorithms that can process them. 
“CSAIL’s approach to big data is unique in that we will be building, from the ground up, new methods for dealing with the data deluge, and then applying our techniques to specific research areas,” said Daniela Rus, the director of CSAIL.
Research will focus on key domains such as finance, medicine, social media and security. “For example,” Madden said, “we hope 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. We also want to secure the ever-expanding datasets of medical, financial and personal information.”
Intel chose CSAIL to host its new big data center after a competition involving several major universities. According to Justin Rattner, Intel’s Chief Technology Officer, “CSAIL is one of the top places in the world that brings together people who build computational platforms like databases and networks and people who work on algorithms and machine learning techniques –- with people who have expertise in specific domains such as finance, medicine and security. These are the skills we need for taming big data.”
The ISTC for Big Data will receive $2.5 million a year for up to five years and will be led by Madden and Michael Stonebraker, an adjunct professor at MIT and a principal investigator at CSAIL.
Governor Patrick said he believes that Massachusetts is uniquely positioned to help lead the movement to harness big data.
“Our Massachusetts Big Data Initiative and private investment like Intel’s support of MIT CSAIL’s program will position Massachusetts as a leader in a growing, global industry and allow us to become the premier destination for big data,” said Patrick. 
As part of the bigdata@CSAIL initiative, CSAIL is joining forces with other companies, including founding members AIG, EMC, Intel, SAP, and Thomson Reuters. This collaboration is being developed by Elizabeth Bruce, director of CSAIL’s Industry Partnerships.
For more information on bigdata@CSAIL, please visit: http://bigdata.csail.mit.edu/.
Prof. Sam Madden explains CSAIL's approach to tackling big data.
Photo: Jason Dorfman
June 01, 2012
Abby Abazorius, CSAIL