Message from Director-General

Tomoyuki Higuchi

October 23, 2013

Tomoyuki Higuchi

The Institute of Statistical Mathematics

Over the last financial year, which we should call the “First Year of BigData”, numerous seminars and symposiums relating to the utilization of “big data” were held across the spheres of industry, government, and academia. As a result, a large number of research and development projects and plans are now underway. Of course, while some people leap instantly at the latest, most popular topics, there will always be others who take a cool and cautious attitude to new trends. Some people even take the cynical view that the season of big data has already passed and that big data is now going rapidly downhill. This is probably inevitable in the case of the media, obsessed as they are by the topic of the moment, but nonetheless the essential fact that big data will have a deep impact on society needs to be clearly recognized.

Up until 20 or 30 years ago, money and information circulated within the structure of society in a rather gradual and steady way, somewhat similar to such physical phenomena advection and diffusion. Now, however, due to the mass penetration of the Internet, money and information move at high speed, without any connection to real-world distances. As a result, the role previously played by the constituents in a social structure has been lost, and many types of work and occupations are disappearing. Under this new structure, there are no first principles (governing equations) that describe the phenomena arising under this new structure, and the conveyance and processing of information—that is, computational services—are generating huge amounts of economic value. In the business world, big data are the measurements of this social structure. Thus, instead of solving governing equations, what has become important is to understand phenomena using clues provided by big data and to develop modeling techniques for enabling better predictions and decision-making.

Anticipating the full-scale advent of the “big data era”, the Institute of Statistical Mathematics (ISM) identified the need for professional development to address the demands of this new era as a key goal of its second medium-term plan (financial year 2010–2015). Under the ISM’s Network of Excellence (NOE) initiative, we are pursuing big-data-related R&D utilizing a wide range of tools, including machine learning, data assimilation, risk analysis, and next-generation survey methods. We are also striving to foster young data scientists, through various professional development programs at the ISM’s School of Statistical Thinking, which serves as our principal base for education and training programs in statistical thinking.

The “Coop with Math Program”, launched in November 2012, is a project that ISM is undertaking on contract for the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). Under the program, we are devising ways to promote research to stimulate innovation and creativity through collaboration between mathematics/mathematical science and various other sciences and industries, and big data is certainly an important focus of research in this initiative. Selected to serve as the core institution of this project, ISM is actively collaborating with eight major Japanese centers of research and education in mathematics and mathematical science as part of the initiative. As a research institute, ISM is wholeheartedly committed to fundamental research in fields related to data, with a view to fulfilling the expectations of society. In this effort, we look forward to your continued understanding and support.