big data | January 06, 2013

Let's Harness Data Better Than We Harnessed Oil: Jer Thorp At PopTech

As Jer Thorp explains in his recent PopTech keynote speech, big data could be the next big oil—which, depending on how we manage this valuable resource, could be extremely promising or potentially dangerous. At the The Office For Creative Research (which Thorp recently launched), the artist and educator explores the problems associated with the abundance of information available to us today. "Let’s try to not make the same mistakes with this new resource that we have with the last ones," he says in the speech. He argues that since we didn't do very well with big oil, we need to learn from our missteps and make better use of big data. As he explains in the talk, this means taking a subjective view of the issue by seeking to understand the human implications of harnessing and utilizing data in business. This includes taking everything from data ownership to data ethics into account as we start to make more intensive use of the detailed information trail that now follows us everywhere we go.

The breadth and potential power of this resource is tremendous, and it is vitally important that people understand what information is out there, how it is being used, and what that means for the average person. Including, he says, answering the question of "what is it like to be us living in this ever-more complicated world." By transforming massive networks of data into creative and visually appealing artwork, Thorp hopes to put data into a human context. He is the Data Artist in Residence at The New York Times and has created award-winning software that utilizes massive data sets in creative and innovative new ways. In his talks, he explains that data is much more than just numbers. Instead, as he explains to his wide array of audiences, it is becoming an increasingly important part of who we are and how we live our lives.