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Big Data Visualization

Up to this point, we've been talking about big data, and the things that the computers are able to do for the humans. On the other hand, it turns out there are certain things that humans still do better than computers, and visualization is one of them. Humans are visual animals. We work on sight, and we get a huge amount of information that way. Computers are very good at spotting certain patterns. They're also very good at calculating predictive models and doing data mining in a way that humans would have a hard time doing in a thousand lifetimes.

But, humans perceive and interpret patterns much better than computers do, and so human vision still plays an important role in big data. Humans can see the patterns, and they can see the exceptions to the patterns or the anomalies very quickly. They can also see those patterns across multiple variables and groups. They're also much better at interpreting the content of images than computers are. So for instance, here are some familiar examples from what's called Gestalt patterns.

It's a German word meaning a pattern or a whole. What you see here for instance, is in the top left the three circles or the three arcs, that together suggest, imply a triangle in the middle. The triangle is not there. It's created by the absence. It's very easy for humans to see this, because we're looking at something that is suggested through negative space. It would be much harder for a computer to see it. Similarly, the arrangement of circles and squares is easy for people to follow that on the top right. On the bottom left, we see four squares separately.

Then we see squares arranged in pairs, and then squares all arranged as a single line. Easy for humans to perceive and interpret. Hard for computers to make sense of. In the bottom right in D, it's easy to see rows of dots, and then columns of dots, because humans are built for this kind of visual processing, and it's very hard to describe to a computer how to do it. Now, I want to show you an interesting example from the National Science Foundation, who has their Vizzies. Even though it says the most beautiful visualizations, these are also very informative ones.

I'm going to scroll down just a little bit here, and look at the one on the right, which is about video. I will look at the 2013 winners, and I'll click on the first one here. Now, this is a still frame from a video visualization. What it's showing is weather data from satellites about the earth.What's clear here is that these are circulation patterns of the ocean and the wind, and it's really easy for humans to see the patterns of the swirling shapes that form a continuous flow, and also the circles.

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