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Willetts announces £189m government funding for data innovation

Charlotte Jee Published 25 January 2013

Funding to support data analytics research into areas such as environmental monitoring


Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts has set out plans for the government to invest £600m in 'eight great technologies', £189m of which will be allocated to support data innovation.

During a speech made at Policy Exchange, Willetts said that the £189m will follow a £150m investment in e-Infrastructure made in October 2011, and will be invested over the next two years in key areas such as bioinformatics and environmental monitoring.

Willetts announced the establishment of the 'e-Infrastructure Leadership Council', which is chaired by Dominic Tildesley, previously a senior business executive at Unilever, and himself. The council will share its plans for research funding with industry in order to encourage co-investment.

According to Willetts, "we are seeing the benefits already with companies such as IBM, Cisco and Intel making a number of investments in to the UK. Business will invest more as they see us invest more in computational infrastructure to capture and analyse data flows released by the open data revolution."

In addition, the minister said, government investment in data analytics will also allow the UK to maintain its leading position in social science.

In an accompanying pamphlet authored by Willetts, he says, "capturing value from all this data- for economic growth and social benefits such as improved health- requires a transformation in data analysis. With the right investments, the UK is well placed for the big data revolution."

Elaborating on £600m worth of funding announced by George Osborne in the Autumn Statement, Willetts said that the money will be allocated for eight different areas, dubbed 'eight great technologies'.

Beyond the £189m allocated for 'big data', £25m will be invested into space, for example into satellite technology. £35m will go towards robotics and autonomous systems, £88m will be for synthetic biology such as genetic engineering, £20m will go towards regenerative medicine, and £30m will be allocated for agricultural technologies. £73m will be invested in advanced materials for sectors including aerospace and £30m will be invested in energy storage.

However, Willetts warned that the government is wary of "trying to pick winners". He acknowledged the importance of an overarching high-tech industrial strategy, but insisted "it is not backing particular businesses. Instead we are focusing on big general purpose technologies."

He also said that the government cannot pretend to have perfect foresight, warning, "Some of the technologies for which we have high hopes today will turn out to be clunkers tomorrow." However, he said, "I am optimistic. With our strong public support for R&D and these new measures for converting discovery into commercial opportunities we can indeed achieve a lot."

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