CXO

Peter Cochrane's Blog: Animated statistics

Make sense of the data mountains...

Written at an Amsterdam airport hotel and dispatched to silicon.com via an expensive public wi-fi service

Understanding the massive stacks of data generated by industry and government agencies worldwide is a major problem that may just have been solved through animation.

About five years ago I came across a group of very frustrated social scientists and health specialists bent on trying to explain mega-trends in global health and wealth across nations by the year.

Unusually, their major problem was not the lack of data. On the contrary, they had mountains of it but it was stifling all attempts at clarity.

For decades the statisticians had failed to come up with anything meaningful in terms of illuminating the depth and trends hidden in UN databases.

So Swedish professor Hans Rosling and his son decided to try a different tack. They had realised that static trend lines and error bars wouldn't do. It all had to move. Animating the data was the only way any real significance could be inferred by the human brain.

A short time later I invited them to an international conference where the audience were immediately wowed. Well, I am pleased to say they have made some considerable progress in developing a toolset that is now available for industrial and public use.

Details are available here but before you go and check it out, first watch this video exposition in which Hans really goes to town on world trends. Just be prepared to be wowed.

And finally, when you have viewed and played with the tools, ask the question: why didn't statisticians or graphics experts come up with this brilliant technology solution? Like most things it was born from a group with a dire need and the ability to drive the technology.

Now, if only we can get managers and politicians to start using such tools - how much better critical human decision-making might become.

About Peter Cochrane

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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