Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Data to Information: Hans Rosling's TEDTalk

When Professor Rosling spoke about the disparity between his expectations of his students' understanding their actual understanding:

The problem for me was not ignorance, it was preconceived ideas.

I thought, "Wow, what a deeply analytical thinker." There's a fine distinction between ignorance and preconceived ideas - a distinction most people probably fail to make.

Rosling's simple statement appears to be a personal reflection about his students but it is really the point he is trying to make in his presentation: we don't necessarily need more data to battle a lack of knowledge (ignorance) when instead, we could make sense of existing data and pit those findings against what we think we already know (preconceived ideas).

Anyone can still watch Hans Rosling's TEDTalk about the availability and use of publicly funded data. Hans Rosling founded Gapminder.org and has a personal blog. Anyone interested in the way our world is developing socially and economically should definitely watch the talk. Of course, the information visualization techniques are spectacular and really illustrate the points he makes about global quality-of-life trends.

Regarding the more technical details of the talk, I had three main thoughts. Firstly, I found myself continuously amazed by the communicative efficiency of each of his animated diagrams. Just when I thought I had seen all the info vis tricks, he'd pull out a few more! No doubt, his narration added to the effectiveness but I couldn't help wondering what kind of and how many people were behind the design of the visualizations and how difficult it was to code it all up.

Secondly, the strive towards improving accessibility, organization, and retrieval of the world's publicly-funded and supposedly publicly-available data is paramount. The true value of achieving that would be to inform the policies which aid those in need. It appears that the whole range of aid, from planning to implementation, could benefit from a clearer understanding of the state of affairs today. Want to talk about a plan for AIDS in Africa? If you recognize the vastly differing situations within Africa, perhaps you'll realize more specific plans would be more effective and even regional plans may seem too generalized and ludicrous.

Third and lastly, to maximize on the existing mountain of data, it should be available and easily searchable. Why? Besides the obvious benefits of accessibility, open data would allow so many more minds and hours poring over it, increasing the possibility for more good stuff to float to the top. I doubt that needs any explanation or justification.

Not that its possible life-changing benefit is anywhere near decreasing infant mortality or halting AIDS epidemics, but the whole discussion reminded me of APIs and the Web 2.0 liberation of data. Oh man, the thought of vast uncharted potential gets me pumped up!

A side note about TEDTalks I've seen so far: The presenters are brilliant for sure, but they also seem to be quite humorous. I wonder if brilliant and humorous people tend to get invited to talk or if brilliant people also tend to be humorous. If humor and brilliance travel in the company of each other, I guess that would mean people pick up on it and would assume funny individuals are brilliant individuals. Better brush up on my jokes :-o


Kelly said...

yay information

codyfrew said...

Google just bought Trendalyzer, part of Gapminder...

could be very interesting