Big data and how Wales is grasping the opportunity

July 2020 | Rural policy

It is incredible to think that there are 5 billion smart phone users in the world, and that on average, they each use 40 exabytes of data each month. And if you don’t know what an exabyte is, for the purposes of this piece, 40 of them times 5 billion, is quite a lot!

Think of it another way. Every minute, 188 million emails are sent, there are 3.8 million searches on google, 2.1 million messages are uploaded onto Snapchat, and one million people log on to Facebook. Non-technically speaking, that’s an awful lot of information, flying around the world, at speed, and with accuracy, all the time.

This is – Big Data. Too much for traditional computers to handle. And the science of big data is all about storing, processing, and analysing big data, in some cases for monetisation, in others to improve the management of a situation, or to achieve better healthcare outcomes. Supercomputers and algorithms can now process – or make sense of – massive amounts of data in real time.

But what does all this mean?  And how does it apply to rural Wales?

Cardiff University soon hopes to have some answers. Its collaborative Connected Communities in the Rural Economy (CoCoRE) project will assess how 5G technology can be applied for good purposes. The speed of 5G means that technology is used in a more advanced way which could improve the way we interact with critical services, from energy, to transport, to healthcare, and enable rural communities to adopt new applications such as driverless cars, remote healthcare and the ‘smart’ devices we increasingly use in our homes and at work.

The consortium universities – that’s Cardiff, Swansea, Aberystwyth, and Bangor – are also leading the way in applying big data science to real life, practical scenarios. The supercomputer hubs are based at Swansea and Cardiff and are connected to research teams at Aberystwyth and Bangor through high-speed network connections.

Aberystwyth University is using the facilities to support DNA sequencing projects for plant breeding and the big data challenges of Earth observations, whilst Bangor University is exploiting big data to support tidal energy and oceanographic projects.

Meanwhile, at Cardiff University, the facility is being used to research gravitational waves, and gene science looking at the diagnosis and treatment of inherited diseases and cancer.

Swansea’s Bloodhound Project is using supercomputing to help create the world’s first 1,000mph car, and develop algorithms for the UK Met Office for its weather forecasting.

It’s comforting to know that Wales has some skin in the game, and that big data has practical applications for rural communities.  Worth remembering when we consider the sobering fact that within 10 years, a central processing unit – the electronic circuitry in a standard computer – will be able to reach the processing power of the human brain.

That’s quite something to get your head around.

Some sources
Supercomputing Wales – part-funded by (ERDF) via WG, launch article here.
Data Innovation Research Institute – Cardiff University article here.

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