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Future trends

14 Nov 2016

Ron Mobed, CEO of Elsevier, discusses big data, and how it will grow a ‘global knowledge ecosystem’

Over the course of the next three decades, science and engineering will be defined by the expansion of technology-enabled collaborative networks, and the explosion in the availability of new sources of data.

We consistently hear from researchers that their work is becoming increasingly data centric, and that the sheer volume of data and connections present formidable challenges. Researchers, government bodies and other decision makers are already under increasing pressure to draw from a wider body of knowledge, and to use it to produce better outcomes, faster and at lower cost. That pressure will continue to grow, as will the huge amount of information available.

What will transform science, both in the research lab, and at a government and investment level, will be the technology that turns that data into meaningful insights and actionable information, and which provides professionals with the assurance of authoritativeness. A large volume of highly complex data sets are of little value without the technology to make it useful or the tools for turning it into meaningful insights and applications.  Nor is it of any value if the user cannot rely on its sources or accuracy. Professionals need to know, with confidence what is truly authoritative, where it originated, and whether it is truly relevant.

Through the interaction of machine learning and big data technologies, researchers and governments can already draw specific insights from the vast corpus of scientific knowledge that inform which decisions to take, where to invest, what to research, and who to collaborate with.

That will increasingly become the case in the coming years. The data these technologies draw from will increase in depth and breadth, and the insights they provide will be backed by an evidence base far greater than any one person could manage themselves.

These technologies will lead to the emergence of a global knowledge ecosystem, and as that grows more open, it will become the most potent source for growing new ideas. ‘Knowledge centres’ as they now exist – clusters of expertise around a geographic location – will fade in prominence. Instead, we will see the continued emergence of knowledge networks, as researchers create their own groups to selectively interact, collaborate and lead across disciplines and geographies. We’re already seeing examples of this in areas such as cancer research, where cross discipline groups formed on research networks like Mendeley, have brought engineering expertise to bear on medical research.

This knowledge ecosystem will present myriad opportunities for the scientific community, but it’s an essential development, as much as an exciting one.  Without it, the sheer amount of data and connections available for researchers will prove impossible to navigate. With it, the possibilities of the accumulated knowledge of the scientific community can be brought to bear on the challenges facing humankind, in a way that has never before been possible.

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