Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Fourth Paradigm

There is some discussion in computer science and other fields of scientific inquiry about the so-called "Fourth Paradigm." Jim Gray, a Microsoft Researcher, coined the term to describe a major shift he saw coming in the way science is done. The first three paradigm shifts, in Dr. Gray's estimation, were the scientific revolutions characterized by experimental, theoretical, and computational methods. The new paradigm shift is towards methods that deal with the immense quantity of data being generated by a combination of inexpensive, prolific sensors, networks, and data storage. Scientists are swimming in data, and the future is about how to make sense of it.

Unfortunately, Dr. Gray died in a boating accident in 2007. However, a tribute to his work has recently been published. The Fourth Paradigm: Data-Intensive Scientific Discovery is a collection of essays on the topic. The promise of this new methodology is staggering. Simply put, it will become possible to solve problems that could not be solved in the past!


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