Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The fourth paradigm of science

Source: "A Deluge of Data Shapes a New Era in Computing," JOHN MARKOFF, The New York Times, December 14, 2009.

"in January 2007, Jim Gray, a database software pioneer and a Microsoft researcher, sketched out an argument that computing was fundamentally transforming the practice of science.

"Dr. Gray called the shift a 'fourth paradigm.' The first three paradigms were experimental, theoretical and, more recently, computational science. He explained this paradigm as an evolving era in which an “exaflood” of observational data was threatening to overwhelm scientists. The only way to cope with it, he argued, was a new generation of scientific computing tools to manage, visualize and analyze the data flood.

"In essence, computational power created computational science, which produced the overwhelming flow of data, which now requires a computing change. It is a positive feedback loop in which the data stream becomes the data flood and sculptures a new computing landscape.......

"He argued that government should instead focus on supporting cheaper clusters of computers to manage and process all this data. This is distributed computing, in which a nation full of personal computers can crunch the pools of data involved in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or protein folding.

"The goal, Dr. Gray insisted, was not to have the biggest, fastest single computer, but rather “to have a world in which all of the science literature is online, all of the science data is online, and they interoperate with each other.” He was instrumental in making this a reality, particularly for astronomy, for which he helped build vast databases that wove much of the world’s data into interconnected repositories that have created, in effect, a worldwide telescope"

Comment: What an interesting idea. Of course, it is an idea that can be generalized, for example to government. Think of harnessing the computer power of the cloud of computers not only in government offices but in a nation to do the government's work! JAD

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