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10 Bits: The Data News Hot List

by Daniel Castro

This week’s list of data news highlights covers March 8-14 and includes articles on a British government initiative to fund research on the Internet of Things and a data science competition to predict the winners in the NCAA March Madness tournament.

1. House Committee Passes Bill Exempting Small Companies From Open Data Standard

In 2008, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) started requiring all public companies to report their financial statements in an open data format called the eXtensible Business Reporting Format (XBRL). This week the House Financial Services Committee approved a bill, the Small Company Disclosure Simplification Act (H.R. 4164), that would exempt companies with annual revenues under $250 million (or approximately sixty percent of all U.S. public companies) from the requirement to report their financial data in the XBRL format. Proponents of the XBRL standard argue that the legislation would undermine the completeness, and therefore usefulness, of the financial data available about U.S. public companies.

2. UK Commits £45M to R&D for Internet of Things

British prime minister David Cameron announced £45 million in additional funding for research on the Internet of Things, as well as a £1 million European grant fund to assist startups in this sector. The Internet of Things refers to the universe of sensor-filled devices like smart meters and wearable computers that connect to the Internet. This announcement brings the total UK government funding for research in this area to £73 million.

3. New Standard To Enable Long-Term Storage of Big Data

Sony and Panasonic announced a project to develop a new disc standard, called the Archival Disc standard, that will be capable of storing up to 300 GB of data per disc. Current Blu-ray discs are capable of storing 100 GB per disc. Sony and Panasonic hope they will be able to offer the 300 GB-per-disc recording capacity by the summer of 2015, and they have plans to develop recording capacities of 500 GB per disc and 1 TB per disc in the future.

4. Bill Gates Voices Support for Common Core

Bill Gates argued this week that there are widespread misconceptions about the Common Core, a set of new academic standards being implemented by forty-five states. According to Gates, not only will the standards help prepare children for college and the workforce, but they will also promote innovation in education, as technology companies will be able to develop educational software for a single marketplace of students, rather than needing to develop different materials for states with different educational standards.

5. IBM Bets Big on Big Data

In its annual report, IBM signalled its decision to focus on big data and data analytics as key areas for the company’s growth. According to a statement by IBM President Virginia Rometty, IBM is already a leader in data analytics, employing 15,000 people and spending two-thirds of its research budget in this area. Rometty indicated that IBM would also continue its hardware investments in areas like high-performance computing, storage, and advanced semiconductor technology.

6. Alabama May Use Database to Track Payday Loans

The Alabama House of Representatives has passed a bill that would require the state Banking Department to create a centralized database to track payday loans in real time. Payday loans are small short-term loans that often come with very high interest rates. Alabama limits the amount that can be borrowed to $500, but because there is no central tracking system, people can go to different lenders in order to obtain multiple loans. Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham), who introduced the bill, hopes it will end the ability of people to take out multiple loans and will also allow the state to collect enough data to better understand and potentially regulate the payday loan industry.

7. BMW Expands Use of Predictive Analytics

BMW announced this week that it was expanding its use of predictive analytics to eliminate defects in prototypes of new vehicles. Partnering with IBM, the luxury automaker is using sensors to collect 15,000 data points about the vehicles’ performance during test drives and then analyze the data to detect potential performance or maintenance problems. BMW already analyzes warranty and repair data from dealers to predict maintenance requirements and reduce unscheduled downtime.

8. Interpol Database Could Have Detected Stolen Passports

When officials began investigating what happened to Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, they quickly discovered that two of the passengers had boarded the flight using stolen passports. Interpol, the international law enforcement organization, has said that this should not have happened since, after the September 11, 2011 terrorist attacks, it built an international database of stolen traffic documents. Unfortunately, only a handful of countries use automated passenger screening systems that check the flight manifests against this database.

9. Abercrombie & Fitch Turns to Predictive Analytics

The clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch takes about nine months to get new products to market, a production cycle it hopes to shorten by three months once it implements a new predictive analytics system. The new analytics tool, from software company First Insight, will allow the retailer to get immediate feedback from consumers on product ideas, including design, color, and pricing, and then move quickly to begin producing the items the algorithm predicts will be commercial hits.

10. Machine Learning March Madness

Kaggle, an online platform for data science competitions, is hosting a contest to improve the ability to forecast winners in the NCAA basketball tournament. The competition, sponsored by Intel, will have over 200 teams vying to create the best algorithm to predict the results of the past five years, as well as the winners in 2014. Teams will earn and lose points in the competition based not only on the accuracy of their predictions but also on the confidence they have in these predictions.

Image credit: Flickr user lisboncouncil

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