big data | June 20, 2013

Seek Questions, Not Answers: A Big Data Keynote by Jer Thorp

We all have big hopes for what big data can do for us. But before we can put these metrics to good use, we must humanize and understand the context of it all. That's what Jer Thorp, a prominent speaker on big data, does with his data visualizations. At a symposium held at Caltech, the data artist discussed the "emerging science of big-data visualization." As data metrics become more intensive and complex, we'll need to see data in a new way to interact with it. Pie charts and bar graphs are simply not enough—we need something different.

Traditionally, data visualization has been a reductionist practice; it is used to seek answers rather than ask questions. This strategy almost does a disservice to the complexity of big data. That's because big data often contains hidden knowledge and insights you didn't even know you were looking for. So, as Thorp explains, data visualization should be a means to cultivate and generate new questions. It should not simply be a means to an end. The goal, he explains, is question farming rather than answer farming.

Thorp, who was recently chosen as one of National Geographic’s Emerging Explorers, also says data visualization should be interactive. Being able to see and manipulate the data opens the door for deeper discovery. Thorp recently co-founded the Office for Creative Research (OCR) and was formerly the Data Artist in Residence for The New York Times. In his work and his keynotes, Thorp explores the way that data reflects our humanity. In its raw form, the data available to us may seen useless. But visualizing the information is key to unlocking big data's potential and applying it to our lives.

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big data | June 19, 2013