"NRP 75 provides scientific findings and answers for the effective, appropriate use of large quantities of data"

Interview with Uwe Heck, Representative of the Swiss Federal Administration for NRP 75.

What would be missing without NRP 75?

The research projects under NRP 75 examine issues relating to information technology and their societal impact, and target specific applications. NRP 75 provides scientific findings and answers for the effective, appropriate use of large quantities of data, and thus helps to solve the key problems of the present day. Most modern innovations are based on digital technologies (e.g. big data) that in turn result from scientific research, such as that funded by NRP 75. These affect both our daily life and our economy, and thus raise political and legal questions and spark corresponding discourse.

Can you explain what you think big data means?

Fundamentally, the idea of big data is based on the fact that large, poly-structured volumes of data can be stored and also evaluated in distributed form. A shared understanding of what this data represents ensures that it can be interpreted as information, thus opening it up to other elements such as more precise analyses and coherent forecasts for various purposes.

Political, ideological and interest-driven conclusions and recommendations can also be derived from large quantities of data. Data analysis ultimately remains dependent on theories, models, and intelligent interpretation of the results.

What do you expect the most significant implications to be? What is just hot air?

Vast quantities of data being held by a small number of companies creates a certain level of risk for society as a whole and for the privacy of individuals. Political discourse and action are being stimulated by assertions such as the idea that science and economy will soon be dominated by a completely (new) data-driven system.It has been shown that it is not (only) the quantity of data that is important, but also its quality. Obtaining high-quality data requires some effort and associated funds. Furthermore, ‘too much’ information can have a similar impact to ‘too little’. Increasing volumes of data can mean an accumulating number of correlations, which increases the danger of arbitrary results.

You work at the Federal Chancellery. What is the role of the Digital Transformation and ICT Steering Sector?

In April and June 2020, the Federal Council decided to reorient its approach to digital transformation in the Federal Administration and set up a new centre of expertise at the Federal Chancellery for matters relating to digitalisation. The Digital Transformation and ICT Steering Sector (DTI) took up its work at the beginning of January 2021. The aim is for business processes to be better integrated and data better used within the Federal Administration. In addition, information and communications technology (ICT) applications should be deployed as economically and efficiently as possible. To that end, the DTI Sector can stipulate requirements, initiate its own digital transformation projects and support projects run by other federal departments and offices. It maintains an overview of plans and resources and of digital transformation attainment and ICT performance in the Federal Administration.

Uwe Heck

Uwe Heck works at the Federal Chancellery in the Digital Transformation and ICT Steering Sector. He has also been the Representative of the Swiss Federal Administration for NRP 75 since the beginning of 2019. We talked to him about NRP 75, his work with the federal government, and big data in general.