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Stephen Hawking: Big data vital to scientific advances

Big data analytics will be integral to some of the biggest scientific advances ever seen in the coming years as recognition grows of the potential of this technology.

This is according to Professor Stephen Hawking, who was speaking at the launch of Cambridge University's new Cantab Capital Institute for the Mathematics of Information (CCIMI) last week (November 10th).

He observed that in today's "dazzlingly complex world", it is essential that we are able to make sense of the vast amount of data in order to identify meaning among the noise. However, it is only now that organisations are recognising just how much data there is in any given domain, and what tools will be needed to make the most of it.

Prof Hawking said: "The power of information … only comes from the sophistication of the insights which that information lends itself to. The purpose of using information, in this context, is to drive new insight."

Another question will be what new mathematical tools are required to open up new fields of insight, which will be where the CCIMI will be focusing its efforts. "This is the heart of the Cantab Capital Institute: to drive forward the development of insight, and so enrich a multitude of fields of relevance to us all," he continued.

Echoing comments on artificial intelligence made earlier this year, Prof Hawking also stated: "It is imperative we get machine learning right – progress here may represent some of the most important scientific advances in human history."

The CCIMI is a collaboration between the Departments of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics and Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics. It will work across disciplines to develop new mathematical solutions and methodologies to help understand, analyse, process and simulate data.

Academics from the university will team up with economists and social scientists to develop advanced risk analysis tools for use in financial markets, as well as collaborate with physicists and engineers to explore software and hardware development security, and work with biomedical scientists concentrating on data science in healthcare and biology.

Cambridge University stated: "The advance of data science and the solutions to big data questions heavily rely on fundamental mathematical techniques and in particular, their intra-disciplinary engagement."

This will be at the forefront of the CCIMI's operations, which has been established with the help of a £5 million donation from Cambridge-based hedge fund management firm Cantab Capital Partners. Initially, there will be five PhD students based within the Institute in addition to faculty, and their work will encompass a range of applications across a variety of industry sectors and academic disciplines.