When pictures tell a thousand words


How can human beings cope in a world filled with information? The amount of data that we're producing is growing at unsubstantiated rates, but our brains aren't evolving quickly enough to cope with it. We must innovate to represent it in easily digestible ways. Visualization will play an increasingly important part in the world over the next few years. Organisations such as Gapminder, a non-profit that helps people visualize social and economic data, convert dull statistics into new ways of looking at the world.

The key with visualizing large data sets is to condense the information into easily digestible figures. The Hive Group uses tree diagrams made of interconnecting blocks, enabling business users to interpret information easily across a variety of sectors.

Some products take visualization to new levels, by providing immediate and simple visual cues. Ambient Devices produces a network-connected ambient umbrella that glows when rain is forecast, reminding you to take it with you when you leave. Its Ambient Orb - a device that glows different colours depending on data inputs - can be used to track everything from investment portfolios through to traffic congestion and pollen counts.

Perhaps Ambient's most significant device is a datacasting toolkit, including a microprocessor, that can be embedded into devices. This enables developers to create custom information channels that will trigger specific reactions.

This is where visualization gets really interesting. If a probabilistic algorithm is developed to process a variety of complex data feeds into a simple set of outputs, a device could be made to simply but effectively filter vast amounts of information.

Data comprising a company's inventory, regional sales, supply chain, and customer feedback information could be filtered through a probabilistic Bayesian algorithm, for example. When the orb glows red on the COO's desk, perhaps it would be a good cue to check some key performance indicators?

Stewart Baines

I've been writing about technology for nearly 20 years, including editing industry magazines Connect and Communications International. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Anthony Plewes. My focus in Futurity Media is in emerging technologies, social media and future gazing. As a graduate of philosophy & science, I have studied futurology & foresight to the post-grad level.