Proof the UK is taking big data seriously

Big data projects in the UK have received a large boost as the government has pledged to support the big data revolution by making £73m available to help unlock the potential of datasets.

In total 55 projects split across four groups that including medical, arts and environmental sectors will be benefiting from the investments made by officials.

It is claimed that within the next three years that big data will help to boost the UK economy by £216bn, making it one of the largest growing trends in the country. The most recent funding was announced by Universities and Science Minister David Willetts and follows the promised £189m funding announcement for big data in 2012.

The government also claims that big data projects will create 58,000 new jobs by 2017, as well as helping to drive innovation.

The funding is a boost to those working with big data and also for those who support its use to help develop advancements for society.

Receiving the biggest proportion of the money is the Medical Research Council who will be investing £50m in bioinformatics, which uses areas of computer science, statistics, mathematics and engineering to process biological data.

The Economic and Social Research Council will be investing £14m in four research centres at Essex, Glasgow, UCL and Leeds Universities.

It is hoped the centres will make data from private sector organisations and local government accessible to researchers. Currently, the data is being collected by these organisations but is not being used for research purposes.

The Natural Environment Research Council will be funding some of 24 projects with £4.6m to help the UK research community take advantage of existing environmental data.

Receiving the least amount of the funding the Arts and Humanities Research Council will be funding 21 new open data projects with £4m. It will make large data sets that academics would normally have access to available to members of the public.

The announcement comes as one of the latest in the global big data movement that is seeing countries, governments, and private companies try to seize the potential behind masses of information.

In the US $200m has been put into a big data R&D initiative and Japan’s Growth Strategy has allocated almost £90m for their research.

Outlining the need for investment in the sector Willets said: “Big data is one of the eight great technologies of the future and a priority for government. It has the potential to transform public and private sector organisations, drive research and development, increase productivity and innovation, and enable market-changing products and services.

“This funding will help the UK grasp these opportunities and get ahead in the global race.”


Image courtesy of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.


Amazon knows what you’re going to order

The internet has changed the way we buy things forever, but if Amazon has anything to do with it this is just the beginning. The megaretailer has filed a patent for something its calling “anticipatory shipping”; an algorithm-based technology that starts shipping you goods before you’ve even ordered them.

This might sound like something out of Minority Report, but Amazon’s vast collection of user data enables it to predict consumer demand with a fair level of accuracy. By combining information such as your wish list, previous orders or shopping basket contents with creepier data such as how long your cursor hovers over certain items, the company could anticipate what you want before you even click ‘buy’.

This could involve shipping certain popular products to specific areas before leaving them at nearby depots or on delivery trucks until a customer decides to buy. By then, the product would have already made most of the journey so wouldn’t have far to go to complete its journey.

In theory, this technology could be great for shoppers; imagine if while browsing you saw that the latest box set or headphones you wanted were in your area and available for delivery within hours. But it could go horribly wrong – if the algorithm’s predictions are off Amazon could wind up with a stack of products in the wrong part of its delivery chain and would be forced to discount or gift them to shift the excess.

Equally, companies need to be very careful about using prediction technologies on consumers. This approach can be really exciting to use, with the most successful example being Google Now, which can predict your behavior based on past activities with a surprising level of accuracy.

But if a company’s practices creep you out you’re far less likely to want to use it, even if it’s offering you attractive delivery options on a product you want. It’s all about making the service feel helpful without being invasive, and we’re betting this is something Amazon is pretty good at.

This patent is the latest plan by Amazon to eliminate the last barrier to total retail domination: shipping times. While online retailers have lured a lot of us away from physical shops thanks to factors such as price, the benefit of having an item as soon as you purchase it is the one advantage physical shops have over online stores.

But it seems like Amazon is hell-bent on changing this, with same-day deliveries already implemented in many areas and plans for drone deliveries underway. The company hasn’t said how much time it thinks anticipatory shipping will save, but rest assured if it can shave time off the delivery, it will.

We’re not convinced about anticipatory shipping being the complete solution, but sooner or later a technology will arrive that gives online orders near-instantaneous shipping times, and when that happens online retail’s domination will be complete.


Image courtesy of Luke Dorny.