CSIRO takes on data analytics and IT research with new chief

Australia's science agency has announced the new chief of its IT research agency.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor on

The Australian government's science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), has appointed previous CSIRO Mathematics chief Dr Bronwyn Harch as the chief of its new IT research division, CSIRO Computational Informatics (CCI).

The new division will partner with the CSIRO's National Research Flagship program to perform data analytics and conduct research into topics including data-driven science, systems modelling, and autonomous robots.

"The proliferation of smart devices and increasing access to next-generation broadband has caused an explosion in the volume, velocity, and variety of data and information," said Harch.

"With predictions that by 2020, the average person will own six different smart devices [PDF] connecting us to over 37 billion 'things', from cows in the field to our car to our fridge door through the internet [PDF], it is clear the amount of data we produce will continue to grow at an exponential rate."

The CSIRO believes its new division's research on and implementation of scientific data analytics will aid the ageing population in terms of both technology and health, with the agency aiming to use data for such initiatives as being able to "pinpoint the genes that could lead to a simple blood screening test for Alzheimer's disease before it takes hold".

It is also collaborating with the Australian Centre for Broadband Innovation and the Digital Productivity and Services Flagship to influence "next-generation broadband networks to monitor health data and help older Australians to live in their own homes longer, independently, and safely".

The CSIRO referred to a recent report by the McKinsey Institute, which argued that the proliferation of technologies such as 3D printing, mobile internet, and robotics will necessitate an advancement in data analytics. By 2025, according to the report, these "disruptive" technologies will potentially contribute between AU$14 trillion and AU$33 trillion to the global economy each year.

The CSIRO has around 6,500 staff members stationed at 58 offices around Australia and the globe.

The CSIRO last week said that it will also be making use of Raijin, the largest x86 high-performance supercomputer in the southern hemisphere, built by Fujitsu and opened last week, alongside the Bureau of Meteorology and Geoscience Australia for scientific research and modelling.

In November last year, the CSIRO announced that it would be reducing the number of researcher roles within its ICT Centre, and signalled that further redundancies would be made.

"We are relatively early on in the process and have identified three people — one scientist and two technical — who are surplus to the ICT Centre's requirements, but not necessarily to CSIRO. It is hoped the staff can be redeployed within CSIRO," the agency said at the time.

In June, CSIRO CEO Dr Megan Clark confirmed that it had cut 64 roles over the preceding year across the organisation, but said that many of the additional staff members to be cut would be redeployed within the agency.

In October last year, the CSIRO opened the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) radio telescope near Geraldton, Western Australia, as part of the AU$2.5 billion Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project. The project will consist of 60 dishes spread across South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, with the first phase to be completed between 2016 and 2019, and overall completion expected in 2024.

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