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November 3, 2016

Banker HSBC Joins UK Data Effort

(Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock)

The dismal science is getting a data boost through a research partnership between a global bank and the U.K.’s national center for data science.

The Alan Turing Institute and London-based HSBC Holdings (NYSE: HSBC) said they are launching the multimillion-pound data science research effort to better “understand changes in the U.K. economy.” Launched last year, the Turing Institute brings together researchers from top British universities focusing on mathematics, computer science, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

The goal of the economics data research, the partners said, is to “catalyze research into ‘big data’ and algorithms.”

Also participating in the economic data initiative is the U.K. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

HSBC said it is the first financial services company to conduct data research with the Turing Institute. The data science center already works with government agencies such as GCHQ, the British signals intelligence and security agency, along with insurers such as Lloyds and technology partner Intel Corp. (NASDAQ: INTC).

Along with leveraging data analytics to stay ahead of global economic trends, HSBC Chairman Douglas Flint noted in a statement that the research partners “have discussed the potential of research into a range of issues, from the effect of the rise of the ‘gig’ economy through to analyzing factors impacting trade corridors and how quickly business and government need to adapt to changes.”

The research initiative is being launched as the British economy faces growing uncertainty after a vote to exit the European Union. The economic situation was further muddled this week when a U.K. court ruled that the British Parliament must approve this summer’s “Brexit” referendum.

The research effort will help “advance cutting-edge research into economic data science, and devise new tools to enable us to better understand the U.K. economy,” added Howard Covington, chairman of the Alan Turing Institute.

While no stranger to data analysis, observers note that econometrics, a field that has approached big data with caution, increasingly requires a combination of economic and computer science skills. As with most enterprises, the primary reason is the exponential growth and complexity of data.

Observers also note that economic analysis often starts with a theory or model and then uses data analysis to either prove or disprove a theory. Meanwhile, big data and machine learning mostly work in reverse. That dichotomy has prompted analysts to cite the advice of Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL) chief economist Hal Varian: “Go to the computer science department and take a class in machine learning.”

It appears that HSBC is doing just that in partnering with the prestigious Turing Institute, whose founders are: Cambridge University, University of Edinburgh, Oxford University, University College of London and the University of Warwick.

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