Pakistan now has a National Center in Big Data and Cloud Computing (NCBC) that brings together 12 laboratories across 11 leading universities of the country working in fields ranging from medicine and agriculture to energy management and distribution.
The PKR 1.5 billion center housed at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) was inaugurated last Friday (May 4).
The laboratories that will come together under the initiative are based at LUMS, National University of Science and Technology (NUST), University of Engineering and Technology (UET) Lahore and Peshawar campuses, Information Technology University (ITU), National University of Emerging Sciences-FAST, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology (SZABIST), CECOS University of Information Technology and Emerging Sciences-Peshawar, University of Agriculture-Faisalabad, Ziauddin University, and NED University of Engineering and Technology.
At the Sustainable Energy Informatics Lab of LUMS, a team of researchers led by Dr Naveed Arshad, who is also serving as the interim director of the Center, will use big data to better understand future energy needs of the country. “Our project has a long-term component of improving energy system forecasting so that generation capacity can be enhanced accordingly. In the short term, we will focus on the efficiency of distribution systems,” Dr Arshad told MIT Technology Review Pakistan.
His research team will use country-level data gathered from the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) and the Central Power Procurement Authority (CPPA). The household-level data will be compiled by the team on its own.
The team of researchers based at the CECOS Peshawar’s Precision Medicine Lab will work on cancer patterns in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. Dr Faisal Khan, the principal investigator, said that DNA sequencing of tissue samples collected from at least 100 cancer patients would be used to generate the dataset. This would enable the team to understand cancer patterns prevalent in the local population. “There is a very short timespan in which tissue samples have to be transported to the lab so for now we will restrict our investigation to KP province,” he said.
“Sometimes, the same kind of cancer manifests differently in different people due to a single mutation in our genes. This is why it is important to better understand different local patterns in cancers. This research will ultimately improve diagnostic and prescription capabilities of oncology departments across the country,” said Dr Khan.
Dr Saeed ul Hassan, a co-principal investigator at the ITU’s Crime Investigation and Prevention Lab, said that the lab would use data from multiple sources to prepare models to forecast crime patterns. Based on these patterns, the authorities could generate alert messages for the public, he said. In the first phase, the team will work on developing speech recognition models for Urdu language so that telephonic data can be analyzed effectively.
Speaking at the inauguration ceremony last Friday, Dr Arshad shared that the NCBC was an outcome of a competition organized by the Higher Education Commission (HEC) among researchers working across Pakistani universities. He said while the participating laboratories would pursue their individual projects, the center would focus on research and development (R&D) and human resource development in the specialized fields of big data and cloud computing. “The role of big data analytics and cloud computing is growing in many businesses and their applications have become extremely critical to economic growth and national competitiveness,” he noted.
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Others who spoke on the occasion were Ahsan Iqbal, the chairman of the Planning Commission of Pakistan; Dr. Athar Osama, the science and technology member at the Commission; and Dr. Arshad Ali, the executive director at the HEC.
Dr. Osama told the gathering, “With NCBC, not only will we have partner labs across Pakistan working in diverse fields, but we will also provide high performance computing facilities at four locations across the country. These facilities will be open to partner labs as well as independent researchers in big data and cloud computing.”
He said that in the coming months the NCBC would also set up an open data portal. “Selected datasets will be available on the portal from a wide range of public, semi-public and possibly private entities. Availability of such datasets will enable anybody to analyze the data and suggest innovative solutions,” he said.
He shared some other national centers in the pipeline were about Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Automation, and Cyber Security.
Minister Ahsan Iqbal said that the establishment of the Center was an auspicious occasion for Pakistan. “It marks the realization of a dream to Pakistan forward to position itself as a knowledge-based economy driven by data which is the ‘new oil’,” he said.