science | November 11, 2012

We The Data: Eric Berlow Untaps The Potential Of Digital Information [VIDEO]

Complex problems don't scare Eric Berlow. In fact, as a complexity scientist, he thrives on making connections within large-scale systems, including the burgeoning big data movement and how it is altering society. The TED Fellow had a hand in creating the We The Data collective (an offshoot of Vibrant Data Labs' "think and do tank," which he co-founded) to help navigate, understand, and make use of the abundance of invaluable data now accessible to us via new technology and the Internet.

"In this project, were trying to map the ecosystem of vibrant data," he explains in a recent video. The purpose of doing so, he says, is to decipher, "how can we enrich and decentralize and democratize that data ecosystem for the benefit," of everyone on the planet. The video was designed to be a call to action and a way for people to take part in the conversation about one of our most valuable resources for social change. Berlow and his team —including members like Bre Pettis, founder of MakerBot, and fellow Lavin speaker Cesar Harada, the inventor of the revolutionary robot Protei—are united by the common belief that, "the Internet is an organism in the process of being born."

Using a similar approach to the one he takes when studying ecological and biological systems, Berlow finds common threads weaving throughout complex structures and simplifies what those connections mean. As he explains in his speeches, the more complex a problem or system, the more resistant it is to change—which means it may also be easier to understand and solve. When you can identify the most influential agents of a system or problem, you can isolate problem areas and come up with creative solutions—even when a system seems hopelessly complicated. He shows us how applying our knowledge of ecosystems to complex social problems (such as how to make positive use of the massive amount of data floating in cyberspace) may be the key to combating some of today's most pressing issues.

Up Next

election 2012 | November 08, 2012