Rick Smolan, the photographer and impresario of media projects, has tackled all sorts of big subjects over the years, from countries (“A Day in the Life of Australia” in 1981) to drinking water (“Blue Planet Run” in 2007). He typically recruits about 100 photographers for each, and their work is crafted into classy coffee-table books of striking photographs and short essays.
But Mr. Smolan concedes that his current venture has been “by far the most challenging project we’ve done.”
Small wonder, given his target: Big Data.
Massive rivers of digital information are a snooze, visually. Yet that is the narrow, literal-minded view. Mr. Smolan’s new project, “The Human Face of Big Data,” which [was] formally announced [last] Thursday, focuses on how data, smart software, sensors and computing are opening the door to all sorts of new uses in science, business, health, energy and water conservation. And the pictures are mostly of the people doing that work or those being affected [more following the link].
Mr. Smolan said he got interested in doing a Big Data project because friends in Silicon Valley were talking about the growing abundance of Internet-era data and its potential. At first, he said, such conversations struck him as “hot air and buzzwords.” But the more he listened, the more he became convinced something significant was happening. “It reminded me of the early days of the Internet,” Mr. Smolan said. “Cyberspace was the buzzword then. But soon you started to see that things were taking off.”
Big Data technology, Mr. Smolan said, makes it possible to measure things as never before in real time. The result, he said, could someday be a “planetary nervous system.” And guesswork and projections will give way to knowledge, and better decisions and policy-making. Low-cost sensors, real-time data collection, high-speed processing and data-visualization tools, he said, might mean “people could not deny global warming because you could see it happening right in front of you on the screen.”
Mr. Smolan visited recently to offer a glimpse of what will be in “The Human Face of Big Data” and the imaginative photo composition involved in bringing technical subjects to life. One photograph shows Shwetak Patel, an assistant professor at the University of Washington, who has developed technology that measures energy and water use in homes; with wireless sensors and clever software to determine what appliances and gadgets in a home use the most electricity and water, the software suggests ways to conserve — information delivered graphically on an iPad. The photo shows young Mr. Patel in the backyard of his cousin’s house in Hayward, Calif., with his cousin’s family, surrounded by what looks to be every single appliance, digital device, faucet and toilet in the household.
Another photo illustrates software technology that captures previously discarded data from heart-monitoring electrocardiogram machines. The software program sifts the data, looking for subtle heart abnormalities that identify patients that are at high risk of suffering a second heart attack within a year. The photo shows two MIT scientists, John Guttag and Collin Stultz, who developed the technology, standing in a small mountain of paper, which is 10 hours of printout data from an E.K.G. machine…
Check out the full story here.
(Contributed by Erwin Gianchandani, CCC Director)