big data | September 17, 2013

Big Data Speakers Eric Berlow & Sean Gourley Look at "Ideas Worth Spreading"

Big data speakers Eric Berlow and Sean Gourley both study complex networks. Berlow, an ecologist, and Gourley, a physicist, have also both given TED Talks about "The Ecology of War." When the two connected to discuss the similarities in their lectures, they then wondered what similarities existed in the many other talks given around the world. So they decided to analyze 24,000 TEDx talks from 147 different countries in 50 languages. They put the results into a stunning visualization, mapping the connections between the "ideas worth spreading" found in all the talks.

The image below is the result of that project:

"We realized that we were connected by the ideas we shared, before we ever met," Berlow says in the TED Talk that he and Gourley gave to reveal their findings. If that was the case, they imagined there must be numerous other connections between the ideas other speakers were discussing, too. "We wanted to find the mathematical structure [underlying] the ideas behind them," Gourley explains. That way, they could find the commonalities that existed. To do this, they pooled together data from YouTube user comments, total views, who the viewers were and and where they were, etc. Gourley and Berlow also pulled from the direct text of each talk and analyzed the keynotes word-for-word to find common threads.

After pooling all the data, the two speakers underlied key concepts and structured them into "meme-omes:" The mathematical equations underlying an idea. They did this to show that even seemingly random and unconnected ideas follow some underlying pattern. The results were astounding. They were able to see how similar threads ran between seemingly diverse talks, how you could break down a complex theme like the environment into a multitude of more specific themes within it, and, what topics resonated with viewers and who specifically liked what. For example, you could pinpoint that young adults were interested in the energy technology element of talks on the environment. Or, that women were interested in the food economy aspect.

Ultimately, Gourley says that mapping ideas in this way will help us "to see what's being said, to see what's not being said, and to be a little bit more human. And, hopefully, a little smarter." It connects people and ideas across the globe, and will help us make more informed decisions in the future.

To book Eric Berlow and/or Sean Gourley for your next keynote event, contact The Lavin Agency Speakers Bureau.

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