Here at Grakn Labs we love technology. So much so that, this month, we’ve decided to share our favourite technology moments from 2016. Each weekday during December, we will open a window on our virtual advent calendar, and peek inside to recall some of the greatest innovation or news that the past year has brought us.
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Oops, we missed a day. Hopefully the chocolate hasn’t melted, behind closed cardboard Christmas doors. There’s too much to keep track of in 2016, it seems. Too much information: too much data.
In keeping with predictions, this year we saw NoSQL options proliferate and gain popularity; Chief Data Officers and data scientists continue to be some of the hottest jobs; powerful analytics and real-time insight across vast data stores become a crucial part of daily business practice; and AI (especially in the form of machine learning) sprout up everywhere. It might be a good idea to take a step back for a moment, dust off all the bits and bytes, and take a breath.
Today, then, we’ll have some news about data, taking a broader perspective of the overall social impact of big data. Because no doubt, once 2017 hits, the data won’t stop coming, and chatbots, IoT, and — of course — AI will continue to reign supreme.
To start, a salutary dose of faux-nostalgia from Dr. Joe Hanson, over at PBS Digital Studios. The specific facts and figures he presents about Big Data — and its impressive bigness — will likely not surprise the more data-savvy reader. Nonetheless, it’s a fun watch, and the aesthetic is reminiscent of an era when all you had to worry about was keeping track of your ever-poorly-labelled collection of floppy disks. Though maybe in comparison to our contemporary age of cloud-based file systems, that isn’t such a calming era of comparison, unless you’d prefer that your final middle school science project ends up on your mom’s quarterly earnings forecast in 2017…
Back to 2016
One of the coolest exhibits I saw this year was Big Bang Data, which was on at Somerset House in London back in the spring. It very creatively demonstrated the transformative effect of all this data. The sections of the exhibit that really drew out the physical pervasiveness of the cloud across the world were particularly impressive.
This video, by Microsoft Research, looks at its Project Natick, which is experimentally evaluating the prospect of rapidly deployed underwater data centres. Instead of relying on energy-intensive cooling fans, and ultra-long-distance submarine data transmission, Microsoft envisions data centres which could keep cool from the ocean, and which drastically reduce transmission distances to coastal populations.
Even if a big data undersea reality comes to fruition, the fact remains that all this cloud infrastructure is now a permanent part of the built world. We thus might begin to have a lot more widely participatory conversations about infrastructure and how we can engage with it. This seems especially true when innovations like drones and IoT sensors will rapidly reshape the very category of infrastructure.
On this note, back in May, Google put out a very cool video about The Data Center Mural Project, demonstrating one way in which big data can be made more physically and emotionally engaging. Google clearly has a big infrastructural impact, and it is engaging in the political dimensions of that impact; indeed, just the other day, they announced that, as of 2017, all their offices and their data centres will be powered by renewable energy. While these data centre murals are only a small step towards re-envisioning infrastructure, it’s certainly a neat step forward.
What will the future of our cities be? How will data be integrated into these plans? How will data transform our governments? These are the sorts of questions that come up when we begin to probe the politics of data. From knowing when your bus will arrive to knowing if your government’s procurement practices are free from corruption, it’s no wonder that Open Data continues to be such a hot topic.
This next video, with New York data scientist Ben Wellington is from 2015, but it’s too enjoyable not to post. Ben does a really great job of demonstrating the importance of open data initiatives for even the most prosaic of activities as parking.
Of course, open data isn’t just about cities or governments. A timely new initiative by researchers at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and Imperial College London has created a free, cloud-based platform for open data about disease outbreaks, making real-time epidemiological insight accessible for everyone. Called Microreact, this platform democratizes epidemiological analysis, and promotes more dynamic collaboration with disease researchers globally. This intro video provides a nice look at the platform’s dashboard, but I encourage you to check out the website to see all the interesting projects that are being conducted with Microreact.
With the future of big data and open data still being written, it’s safe to say that one area with a lot of room for growth is funny videos. In my ‘comprehensive’ searching for something to end this post, I came up short. So I’ll leave you with this: Data growing a beard.
GRAKN.AI is an open-source knowledge graph data platform that brings knowledge ontologies and transactional data together to enable highly intelligent querying of data. Querying is performed through Graql, a declarative, knowledge-oriented graph query language for retrieving explicitly stored and implicitly derived information, and for performing graph analytics and automated reasoning. Grakn and Graql will help you effectively manage and harness large-scale graph data by allowing you to model it expressively, migrate it efficiently, and to draw insightful knowledge from your deep information network.
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