Scientists and Businesspeople Work Together for Big Data Research Solution

February 28, 2013

Ah, we’re pleased to see this real-world step with regard to big data. Science Daily informs us, “Solving Big-Data Bottleneck: Scientists Team with Business Innovators to Tackle Research Hurdles.” Researchers from Harvard Medical School, Harvard Business School, and London Business School have partnered to apply the benefits of a commercial crowdsourcing platform to a significant challenge—finding a data-analysis program that can handle the complexities of biological research analysis. The article reveals:

“Partnering with TopCoder, a crowdsourcing platform with a global community of 450,000 algorithm specialists and software developers, researchers identified a program that can analyze vast amounts of data, in this case from the genes and gene mutations that build antibodies and T cell receptors. Since the immune system takes a limited number of genes and recombines them to fight a seemingly infinite number of invaders, predicting these genetic configurations has proven a massive challenge, with few good solutions.

“The program identified through this crowdsourcing experiment succeeded with an unprecedented level of accuracy and remarkable speed.”

This is certainly a worthy big-data application, and confirmation that folks from different disciplines can effectively work together to accelerate progress. Before the project could really get going, though, the biologists had to translate their query into less-specialized language for the TopCoder community. After that, the viable suggestions came rolling in, and researchers picked their solution from an array of good choices. (Alas, the article does not disclose which software was selected.)

Researchers see more cross-discipline projects in the future; Harvard Business School’s Karim Lakhani notes that existing platforms and communities can provide a speedy alternative to the creation of custom data-analysis solutions. Yes, let’s hear it for cooperation!

Cynthia Murrell, February 28, 2013

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