Uncharted

Uncharted

Big Data as A Lens on Human Culture

Book - 2013
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" "One of the most exciting developments from the world of ideas in decades, presented with panache by two frighteningly brilliant, endearingly unpretentious, and endlessly creative young scientists." - Steven Pinker, author of The Better Angels of Our Nature Our society has gone from writing snippets of information by hand to generating a vast flood of 1s and 0s that record almost every aspect of our lives: who we know, what we do, where we go, what we buy, and who we love. This year, the world will generate 5 zettabytes of data. (That's a five with twenty-one zeros after it.) Big data is revolutionizing the sciences, transforming the humanities, and renegotiating the boundary between industry and the ivory tower. What is emerging is a new way of understanding our world, our past, and possibly, our future. In Uncharted, Erez Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel tell the story of how they tapped into this sea of information to create a new kind of telescope: a tool that, instead of uncovering the motions of distant stars, charts trends in human history across the centuries. By teaming up with Google, they were able to analyze the text of millions of books. The result was a new field of research and a scientific tool, the Google Ngram Viewer, so groundbreaking that its public release made the front page of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Boston Globe, and so addictive that Mother Jones called it "the greatest timewaster in the history of the internet." Using this scope, Aiden and Michel-and millions of users worldwide-are beginning to see answers to a dizzying array of once intractable questions. How quickly does technology spread? Do we talk less about God today? When did people start "having sex" instead of "making love"? At what age do the most famous people become famous? How fast does grammar change? Which writers had their works most effectively censored by the Nazis? When did the spelling "donut" start replacing the venerable "doughnut"? Can we predict the future of human history? Who is better known-Bill Clinton or the rutabaga? All over the world, new scopes are popping up, using big data to quantify the human experience at the grandest scales possible. Yet dangers lurk in this ocean of 1s and 0s-threats to privacy and the specter of ubiquitous government surveillance. Aiden and Michel take readers on a voyage through these uncharted waters"--
Publisher: New York, New York :, Riverhead Books,, 2013.
Copyright Date: ©2013
ISBN: 9781594487453
1594487456
Branch Call Number: 302.231 Aiden
Characteristics: 280 pages :,illustrations ;,22 cm
Additional Contributors: Michel, Jean-Baptiste - Author

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Russ_A
May 28, 2015

This nonfiction account of the creation of Google’s Ngram Viewer is fascinating. An Ngram is a word or phrase (N words long) and the Viewer measures how often that Ngram appears in books in recorded history up to 2008, at least in those scanned by Google. The authors devised the program’s basic features to view history and social change through a factual scientific lens, to see how our word usage changes over time and what that tells us. It begins with the example of illustrating when the United States changed from a plural to a singular noun. Popular accounts attributing that to the Civil War fully uniting the states into one entity once and for all turn out to be false. The trend toward the singular began before that and didn’t really take off until after 1880. If you don’t want to read the rather dry prose and the authors’ own speculations on social trends you can go directly to the appendix to see some of the charts that tell us how Santa compares to Satan, when data became more important (in books anyway) than God, and so on. They do touch on other forms of big data, but I wish they had spent more time and space on things other than Ngrams. What are the possible benefits and harm of all those photos being massively uploaded onto the Web? What about medical data – can it be used to identify causes or cures of diseases by examining massive trends. Google is now already quicker and better at predicting flu outbreaks than the NIH based on web searches for terms like”flu,” “influenza,” “fever,” etc.

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danielestes
Feb 04, 2014

Big Data is one of those phrases that gets carelessly thrown about in corporate speak. And even though we understand what it means, most of us probably tune it out as just another buzz word. Uncharted by Erez Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel is their report on leveraging one of the unexplored areas of Big Data's potential: The historical patterns of written language. Here we get a clearer picture of how humanity developed its literacy through the ages, and there are many surprising insights from the past that were not obvious until now. Uncharted starts off strong with an excellent commentary on the rate a language evolves over time, and I was fully absorbed, but then the book grows muddled and steadily loses focus. There are interesting tidbits throughout, but by the end Uncharted lacks the fulfillment the beginning promised.

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