The Human Face of Big Data
mood & emotion | social life & social media
Rick Smolan is a photographer who used to work for National Geographic and Time Magazine. About every 18 months through his company, Against All Odd Productions, he gets together with his heroes, his peers and some young photographers. They fly a hundred photographers around the world as well as writers, animators, and directors and they do projects to take a deep look at topics. In this video, he presents "The Human Face of Big Data" project, it is designed to demonstrate how real time sensing and visualization of data has the potential to change every aspect of life on earth.
The Human Face of Big Data
I’m going to do this real quickly, but my name is Rick Smolan, and I’m a photographer and I used to work for National Geographic and Time Magazine, and I have a company which is called Against All Odd Productions, and about every 18 months I get together with my heroes, and my peers and some young photographers. And we fly a hundred of photographers around the world as well as writers, animators, and directors and we do these projects where we take a deep look at topics. We started doing A Day in The Life books, and some of you may remember these; 100 photographers one day in a country and then we started doing deep dives on topics.
So we had a 100 of photographers around the world looking at the global water crisis or how the human world is healing itself, or the effect of the internet on civilization, or the microprocessor. Because all the people that work on our projects tend to come from the media, we had been turned down by every publisher in the world by the way that thought it was a really stupid idea these day in the life books, so we had to self-publish them.
The thing is we didn’t realize is that when you invite photographers, writers, and publishers from publications they all feel proud of the final result. So we sort of backed into this incredible series of the media relations where the media gets really excited about these things, the sort of one day looking at a topic.
We started crowdsourcing these things about eight years ago when we opened it up to the general public, and the TV folks were equally enthusiastic about these projects. Again the media loves doing stories about the media, and this is sort of this is your died and gone to heaven and it doesn’t’ get any better than this.
80,000 people tried ordering this book within 10 minutes of Oprah’s show and I’m going to go through this real quickly, but we’re doing a new project now looking at the concept of big data. And of course a big component of big data is the Quantified Self movement. The analogy that I’ve been using to people is that imagine that the whole human race has been looking though one eye until about 18 months ago, and all of a sudden we opened up the second eye.
So what we’re getting now is not just more information, but having so much a new dimension, a new way of seeing things that were always there in front of us, but suddenly we have a three dimensional view of things that are going on.
So we’re doing a series of events starting actually starting next month. Next month we’re sending 100 photographers around the world. One of the reasons that I asked Steven or Ester to let me talk to you tonight is that I was looking for Mark Richoff, who is our director of photography and I are really looking for interesting places to send our photographers to around the world. We’re trying to put a human face on this idea of big data, and the Quantified Self Movement.
So I love this quote from Eric Schmidt, ‘all the information the human race generated from the dawn of humanity to 2003 is five exabytes, and now every two days we’re generating five exabytes.’What is interesting as we’re just drowning in this sea of information, the ability to collect this information is a lot cheaper. All of us are walking around with these little devices, we’re all generating this sort of data exhaust, and everybody in this room knows about this but the fact that we are now able to see patterns and understand things is that this data was always there, but we’re now able to have a new sort of understanding to what this means.
And the fact that these devices are now starting to talk to each other is also pretty fascinating. So the problem from my perspective is the way the media has been telling this story and most of you have seen this, its big data is big brother. It’s really scary and this is a terrible thing that’s happening and we all should be really afraid. Well that sells news magazines, but I think the story is a lot more interesting and a lot more profound. And as I said it’s the whole idea of giving ourselves another dimension of understanding.
So a couple of quick examples, in Japan they spent half a billion dollars installing and early earthquake warning system since 2005. So a minute before the earthquake hit last year all the Bullitt trains and all the factories in Japan stopped; a minute before the earthquake hit. Very few people heard about this story because the devastation was so awful, but there is something called Quake Capture, every laptop with an accelerometer in it. When you drop your laptop off the edge of the table because your kid knocked it off, the head pulls up off the platter to keep it from destroying the hard disk.
Well it turns out that a guy wrote this program out in Japan so that now people leave this program running on their computer and as long as it’s on and it’s connected to the internet, there’s now hundred and thousands of people all over Japan that have created a free early earthquake warning system. It’s just absolutely fascinating, so instead of half a billion dollars it’s now free.
Another example, is a woman in New York City at Columbia University looked at all the data concerning crime in New York City, and what most people do they actually plot it on a map showing you where all the crimes were committed. She decided to look at all the data and said, what else is here that no one is paying attention to. And what she found was that she looked at the whole matrices where people are that they incarcerated, where they live before they went to jail.so she created something which she’s calling a million dollar blocks, and these are blocks within New York City.
The City of New York is spending a million dollars a year to put people in jail from just this one square city block. You might say well who cares, it’s where the criminals lie so who cares.
Well, maybe that’s where you go in and put early childhood intervention or drug counselling. Or career counselling. I mean putting people in jail for 20 years is obviously not going to solve the problem. Again it’s using data that’s always been there and always available to us, but no one’s actually extracted it this way.
You know the Obama Administration is created data dot gov. so if you want to find out if your local congressman keeps hiring a company that’s never delivered a job on time or on budget, and you want to find out who’s been making contributions to that congressman and senator, all of us now has the ability to actually look at this data. And this is something that the Obama Administration and other governments around the world are doing.
And then my brother drives a Preiss and he’s always going on and on about the dashboard. And the other day we were talking about this and he said, well what’s so cool about the dashboard is that the dashboard it just doesn’t tell me what the car’s doing, it tells me what I’m doing. He said I’m a different driver now because it gives me feedback in real time.
The ability as you all know in the Quantified Self movement, to do something and then find out in real time what you’re doing, actually has the potential to change people’s behavior. And obviously the Fitbit is a great example of this and there are so many wonderful devices coming out right now.
So the project that we’re doing is called the Human Face of Big Data. It’s got six components; the first is that on September 18, right in the middle of Quantified Self week worldwide, we’re hoping millions of people around the world to become human sensors for a day.
We want to see if we can get 10 million people around the world to help us measure the planet, and try and be the largest human measurement of the planet ever done. Part of it is saying, look all these devices that we carry around already generating data, let us basically collect your data exhaust for one day. But in addition to that we actually want to ask people to do a series of things.
We want to ask people to do certain things with the cameras in their phones; we want to be able to ask people to record certain sounds during the day. And then we’re going to ask questions about where are you right now, how many of races are in the room around you. How did you learn about the world today, was it from your friends, from the newspaper, from television? Then we’re going to give people the ability to compare themselves to other people.
The second part is that we’re going to build a mission control room. When something happens on the internet it’s really hard to explain to the media or to the people in general in what’s going on. So what we’re going to do is actually set up a room where we’re going to invite journalists to come – and we’re actually doing this at the New York Stock Exchange, upstairs in their ballroom. And we’re going to basically show pictures coming in from around the world that people see in real time what we’re learning about the planet.
The third part is that we’re doing a data construction kit. And the ideas is that if you look at data for one reason and you overlap it with data collected for another, the same idea, triangulation and 3 dimensionality. If you look at a map of the spread of diabetes of the United States over the last 10 years it’s really terrifying.
If you look at another set of data of school systems that have dropped Phys Ed from elementary schools, you might see a real interesting correlation. So I was showing this to someone at Google and they were saying if one of you were to actually make tis correlation from the datasets we’re going to be made available on the website, you get to name it after yourself, or your family member and hopefully you’ll bring other people that actually play with this as well.
The fourth is the global student underground and I’m not going to go into that now, but we’re going to invite teachers and students around the world. We’re going to give them five very easy to do projects where the kids can go out. The kids love being deputized, and the idea is that the kids can go out into their community and use data to actually understand, measure, and compare in what it’s like where they live compared to other places in the world.
We’re sending 100 photographers to 30 countries, we’re looking at all these different areas of human endeavor and again I hope that afterwards you guys will come up and give us some ideas of things we should do, the projects for the kids, assignments for our photographers.
And finally we’re going to do a really beautiful book and Mark if you just hold that book up for a second, I’m going to leave this here for some lucky person tonight, and you guys can help me figure out who gets it. This was the last book about the global water crisis, but we’re doing a book and we’re going to deliver the book the same day to 10,000 key influencers around the world. We’re also looking for people to help us figure out who are those 10,000 people because we want this to be an informed and thoughtful conversation.
Then finally, we’re going to be doing a CNN one hour special about this project and the Quantified Self movement is going to be a very big part of it, and we’re doing exhibits, and our idea is to try to generate a billion media impressions, to get people around the world talking about this in a very thoughtful informed way. We’re not trying to be the definitive defined look at it, we’re just trying to get people some really interesting. fascinating examples of how this is touching our lives, and in what it’s doing, it’s touching our lives, children our families. So that’s it.