These three TED talks happen to delineate and clarify the aims of the main themes and hypotheses of sLab's Visualizing Emergence project, part of CIV-DDD, a collaboration between OCAD University, York University, and University of Toronto.
It might seem odd to focus this material, given the pop overtones, and the sense of being scooped. But these are top people working on the same questions in serious scholarly ways, so rather than hesitate to make the comparison, I'm inspired to chase a similar dream. We can always add more dry references to the bibliography -- but we need to understand each other first.
Geoffrey West: The surprising math of cities and corporations
West, theoretical physicist and former president, Sante Fe Institute, asks if a city is more like an organism, like an ecosystem, or like a company. In answering he clarifies rules about sigmoidal (s-curve) and 'hockey stick' (power law curve) dynamics. He reminds us that these patterns are given by the properties of social networks that underly all these phenomena.
"Physicist Geoffrey West has found that simple, mathematical laws govern the properties of cities -- that wealth, crime rate, walking speed and many other aspects of a city can be deduced from a single number: the city's population. In this mind-bending talk from TEDGlobal he shows how it works and how similar laws hold for organisms and corporations. Physicist Geoffrey West believes that complex systems from organisms to cities are in many ways governed by simple laws -- laws that can be discovered and analyzed."
Nicholas Christakis: How social networks predict epidemics
Christakis, a social scientist at Harvard, moves from epidemics to diffusion of innovation reminding us that the same patterns hold in both cases. Again we gather that social network dynamics dictate the patterns. His goal is prediction, which can be achieved by locating the connector nodes at the centre of the network.
"After mapping humans' intricate social networks, Nicholas Christakis and colleague James Fowler began investigating how this information could better our lives. Now, he reveals his hot-off-the-press findings: These networks can be used to detect epidemics earlier than ever, from the spread of innovative ideas to risky behaviors to viruses (like H1N1). Nicholas Christakis explores how the large-scale, face-to-face social networks in which we are embedded affect our lives, and what we can do to take advantage of this fact"
Aaron Koblin: Artfully visualizing our humanity
Koblin, who calls himself "Google Data Arts Team ringmaster," creates work that instantiates emergence by artfully and elegantly revealing a "gestalt" that is not present in the constituent parts. For example, Flight Patterns reveals the outline of Continental North America, and the distinct daily waves of traveller migration, even though the programming only lights up flight tracks of myriad individual commercial airliners.
"Artist Aaron Koblin takes vast amounts of data -- and at times vast numbers of people -- and weaves them into stunning visualizations. From elegant lines tracing airline flights to landscapes of cell phone data, from a Johnny Cash video assembled from crowd-sourced drawings to the "Wilderness Downtown" video that customizes for the user, his works brilliantly explore how modern technology can make us more human. Aaron Koblin is an artist specializing in data and digital technologies. His work takes real world and community-generated data and uses it to reflect on cultural trends and the changing relationship between humans and technology."