Map of science

Tom James @ 26-05-2009

science_topic_mapSomething wonderful, not especially relevant to science fiction, but pretty and cool:

As to what the image depicts, it was constructed by sorting roughly 800,000 scientific papers into 776 different scientific paradigms (shown as red and blue circular nodes) based on how often the papers were cited together by authors of other papers.

Links (curved lines) were made between the paradigms that shared common members, then treated as rubber bands, holding similar paradigms closer to one another when a physical simulation forced them all apart: thus the layout derives directly from the data. Larger paradigms have more papers. Labels list common words unique to each paradigm.

It tickles my sensawunda node that we can now visualise our understanding of the physical universe in this way. Look at the map in close-up here.

You can see the great flowering coagulations of health, medicine, cell biology, and biochemistry. And brain research in the midst of a three-way tug-of-war between computer science, social science, and the study of the central nervous system (which is winning).

I wonder what this map will look like in a hundred years?

[image from Information Esthetics][via Eric Drexler]


Trend blend for 2009

Tom James @ 04-01-2009

trend_blend_2009From What’s Next Trend Maps we have a trend map for 2009. In the words of the creator:

I’ve been tearing interesting articles out of newspapers and magazines for over twenty years. And for over twenty years I’ve regularly lost them or put them somewhere I can’t find them. So eventually I had an idea. Why not re-write these articles to highlight the key points and connections and then archive them online where they would be easy to find? Better still, why not create a website so that other people could find them too?

Also check out the key innovations timeline. Or read the book.

[via Charles Stross][image from cambodia4kidsorg on flickr]


Imagining the Adaptive City

JustinP @ 17-09-2008

In his writings on ‘cyborg urbanisation‘, Prof. Matthew Gandy (UCL) has compared the relationship between the city and its inhabitants with the cyborg – an archetype familiar to science fiction. For Gandy, the cyborg can help us understand the various networks that enable bodies to function in the modern city.

So, when Dan Hill (City of Sound) posted a vision of something he described as the Adaptive City, I was thinking of cyborgs … triggering a whole different set of neural pathways;

Facilitated by networks of sensors, the data emerging from the new [urban] nervous system appears limitless: near-imperceptible variations in air quality and water quality, innumerable patterns in public and private traffic, results of restaurant inspections, voting patterns in public referenda, triggers of motion sensors, the output of heating ventilation and air conditioning systems, patterns of water usage, levels of waste recycled, genres of books returned at local libraries, location of bicycles in the city’s bike-sharing network, fluctuations in retail stock controls systems, engine data from cars and aeroplanes, collective listening habits of music fans, presence of mobile phones in vehicles enabling floating car data, digital photos and videos locked to spatial co-ordinates, live feeds from CCTV cameras, quantities of solar power generated and used by networks of lamp-posts, structural engineering data from the building information models of newly constructed architecture, complex groupings of friends perceptible in social software multiplied by location-based services, and so on. Myriad flows of data move in and around the built fabric. As many or most objects in the city become potential nodes in a wider network … this shimmering informational field provides a view of the entire city.

But while science fictional tropes see the cyborg as defined either in terms of internal implants or some kind of powered exoskeleton (both dependent on the processes and contours of the individual body), Hill’s ‘Adaptive City’ externalises the cybernetic, projecting it outwards … into the environment; the physical landscape of which the organic body is but one among many. Perhaps the ‘Adaptive City’ is a decentralised cyborg … using feedback loops to harness the power of the collective, and watching its effects as …

[t]he invisible becomes visible … [and] the impact of people on their urban environment can be understood in real-time. Citizens turn off taps earlier, watching their water use patterns improve immediately. Buildings can share resources across differing peaks in their energy and resource loading. Road systems can funnel traffic via speed limits and traffic signals in order to route around congestion. Citizens take public transport rather than private where possible, as the real-time road pricing makes the true cost of private car usage quite evident. The presence of mates in a bar nearby alerts others to their proximity, irrespective of traditional spatial boundaries. Citizens can not only explore proposed designs for their environment, but now have a shared platform for proposing their own. They can plug in their own data sources, effectively hacking the model by augmenting or processing the feeds they’re concerned with.

(‘The Adaptive City’ has a companion piece, ‘The street as platform’ – also at City of Sound … image by taiyofj)


Liquidity – economics and data visualization

JustinP @ 19-05-2008

Hydraulic Computer - Phillips MachineTo coincide with the mechanical rumblings of the Bank of England a couple of weeks back, the Guardian published a piece about the Phillips machine – an early hydraulic computer;

A sensation when it was unveiled at the London School of Economics in 1949, the Phillips machine used hydraulics to model the workings of the British economy but now looks, at first glance, like the brainchild of a nutty professor. Where the Bank’s team of in-house economists are equipped with state-of-the-art digital computers, the profession’s first stab at modelling was very much a do-it-yourself affair with a whiff of the Heath Robinson about it.

When combined with a nifty visualization of American consumer spending from the New York Times, the whole idea of data visualization kicked my cranial cogs into action. This interactive graphic provides a visual breakdown of spending, highlighting price changes over the previous 12 months. This enables us to see that eggs are almost 30% more expensive than in March 2007, while the average American spends more on chicken than computers.

While nifty, this visualization could easily be the tip of a great big iceberg of usefulness. If our day-to-day spending was logged and recorded (be it through anal retention or RFID), we’d be able to visualize and interact with our domestic spending through a similar framework as that used by the New York Times. Essentially, we’d be looking at some kind of virtual, personalised Phillips machine.

Want to compare the breakdown of your expenses for February with that of the average urban-dwelling male in the 26-30 age bracket? Want to add a dynamic element, and watch your financial fortunes ebb and flow over the past ten years? Perhaps isolating the precise moment at which things started to go wrong?

The potential utility of this kind of service could be vast, allowing the cash-blind and mathematically challenged to grok the intricacies of home economics.

Something to include in the next office software bundle, perhaps?

[image from the Science Museum]


Up To The Minute Cartography

Jeremy Lyon @ 08-07-2007

Img 0013-1Maps have always been more like portraits than portrayals. They are historical, sketching a place at a point in time, always in the past. The MIT Senseable City Lab aims to bring maps into the present tense. Real Time Rome is a proof of concept, a series of cartographic representations of the city, updated with real-time data from public transportation systems, cellular tower usage patterns, and much more.

This is fascinating stuff, especially when you start thinking about the relationship maps have to the place they portray. The map is not the territory. A map is not a map without abstraction. But what you choose to abstract changes when your instruments allow you to portray the dynamism of real places. [oreilly radar]