Making Sense of Data

The introduction of computers and the Internet combined with an explosion in information have led to an overabundance and in many cases confusion. Determining what is facts, false information, opinions are becoming increasingly more difficult.

Finding ways to use thinking to overcome problems with abundance and faulty information is vital. So is inventing tools to make sense of data.

Designing a system that makes sense of data in a way that is novel and specific enough so that insights can be gained without human involvement has proved to be a difficult task. The last decades has seen major breakthroughs in the collection and storage of data but few advances has been made in sensemaking systems.

Jeff Jones suggests that it is fundamental that the system recognises when multiple references to the same item are being made. The data may come from different sources and it is crucial to distinguish between one person making one bank transaction an two people doing one transaction. But is it not enough to count things, actions and people, sensemaking systems must also make statements and use these to determine what or whom to notify is the new evidence is important.

Imagine that you cannot use your eyes to catch a Frisbee. What would you use instead?

The flight of the disc is predicted when someone throws a Frisbee and we use our previous experiences mixed with the velocity and the direction to predict where the Frisbee will end up. Usually your eyes and brain collects and make sense of these observations. But imagine that a slow motion Frisbee is thrown towards you and friends using Twitter, photos , stories, heat maps to tell you where it takes place,  the velocity and direction of the Frisbee.

Would you catch it?

We try to make sense of even more complex situations than the motion of a Frisbee. For example, emergency service may receive five calls from people reporting that a child is being abused. There could be one child that they could hear screaming or it could be five different children being abused.

Below is an example of using numbers to make sense of complex movements. maybe this will inspire some great thoughts about other ways of making sense of information, data or the world in general.

business man with glass bubbles

Quantum Juggling

The world of numbers is often described as serious and linking it to brightly coloured balls and a person clowning around may sound strange. Yet juggling and numbers have more in common than the first impression may suggest.

Colin Wright is a mathematician who was frustrated that there was no way to write down juggling moves so he helped develop a notation system for juggling.

A juggling move called Mills Mess required two and a half sides of A4 to write down and Colin thought that there must be a simpler way of writing down the juggling moves. The system devise that was developed is called Siteswap.

The system encodes the number of beats of each throw, which is related to their height and the hand to which the throw is made. Throwing a three means the ball spends two beats in the air and one beat in the hand before it is thrown again, while a four means the ball spends three beats in the air then one beat in the hand before it gets thrown again. The height of the throw is taken into account and the bigger the number the higher the throw. Even numbers are used to represent balls being thrown straight up and caught with the same hand, while odd numbers represent balls being caught with the opposite hand.

The sequence 333 means that the three 3 ball are used – each ball is caught with the opposite hand and there are three beats between the throws. The Siteswap system means that jugglers can share tricks without having to meet in person or filming themselves. Sharing tricks involving five balls or different height is rather tricky and saying the numbers 51515252 52 52 is easier to understand. The coding system has also lead to development of new exciting tricks – the notation means that pattern emerges and this can be broken.

Uncertainty – Thinkibility Nibble

ID-10088349

Often when we search for information we want to be certain that the results are true or we assume that the results are true and certain. But scientific uncertainty is part of scientific research. Since we do not know everything, research continues and it is constantly changing. New ideas and pieces of information is added.

  • Researchers have to decide “how much of the picture is known and how confident we can all be that their findings tell us what’s happening or what’s going to happen. This is uncertainty.“ (Making Sense of Uncertainty)

When a scientist describes the uncertain part of the research, we should be pleased rather than discourage an open discussion about the uncertainty. Climate science, disease modelling, and weather forecasting all have a degree of uncertainty. This is not a deficiency and it certainly does not mean that anything can be true. We may expect scientific research to be true and certain and it is this expectation that is the problem. Yet we still need to make decisions based upon the uncertain results and by explaining and estimating the uncertainty, we have a higher degree of confidence regarding what is known and unknown.

Ignoring results simply on the basis that they are uncertain prevents us from making decisions and taking actions. If we expect certain results, we will never make changes to prevent climate changes or develop new drugs. Complex systems, such as ecological systems or the human body, are not easy to understand and we may never have certain knowledge about what will happen. Identifying area of uncertainty should be part of any research map.

Scientists are developing research maps to help them deal with data deluge. Organising discoveries is vital to prevent duplicating experiments and to ensure that key discoveries are noted. A map makes it easy to see what areas that have been covered and the impact of the results to future studies. Neuroscientists have developed maps that show findings in molecular and cellular cognition and an app has been developed to help researchers to expand and interact with the map. The maps work more or less as an online query, where you can see as much of the maps as you like to. The map can be used to explore what information that is missing and it highlights areas that may be interesting to study.

Uncertainty is often used to dismiss results and undermine the evidence. We need to explore in what ways  our actions  is or is not affected by the uncertainty. When we make decisions for checking for fake passports at the airport, we need a higher level of certainty that it will work as compared to when we discuss policies to reduce the number of road accidents.

While uncertainty is not a barrier to taking action, there are  situations where we should not focus on the uncertainty of the research. In some cases, the aim is to test and see how well an observation can explain a certain theory that we have about the world. There is also uncertainty in the data that is collected and this is different from an uncertainty in the conclusions that is drawn. Different scientists can reach different conclusions when they examine the same set of data.

Uncertainty maps:

  • Identify areas of uncertainty
  • Possible factors that influence the uncertainty
  • The scale of the uncertainty
  • Ways to deal with the uncertainty
  • What does the uncertainty mean for a decision? Do we need to  make another decision?
  • Are there some other pieces of information that has different uncertainty?

Above all –  be suspicious when someone says that something is certain!

Photo:”Book Of Knowledge” by digitalart

How to Outsmart the Internet – Thinkibility Boost

ID-100178754

The Internet! Maybe the most outstanding communication innovation in the history of mankind. A little tap on the keyboard and we have access to all sorts of knowledge, information, ideas, pictures. . . Indispensable business tool that offers faster communication, social networking, and eCommerce.

In this blog post the focus is on the negative aspects with the Internet (Black Hat Thinking). This type of thinking should not be of a negative character; instead a  search for possible faults and risks is carried out. There are many blog posts on the Internet providing lists with disadvantages and the aim with this post is to explore risks and problems but also to encourage a search for ways to overcome  these problems. We explore search engines in general and we look at a wide range of ways that we use the Internet to access information, for example, read the News.

The Annual Edge question 2010 was  How is Internet Changing the Way You Think. Yet none  of the scientists and artists who contributed, directed their attention to possible disadvantages and risks of the overwhelming use of search engines. Instead they explored ideas such as “Is the Internet making us stupider since it is getting more difficult to read a long piece”, and “We have become hunter gatherers of images and information”.

Our brain has an effective filter. Yet when we are looking for information, this filter is not always effective. We are surrounded by things that are trying to impress us and to capture our attention. Our filter tends to leave through things that are familiar to us, while new things and things that require time to process may be ignored.

Brain is an Effective Filter

We can reduce the volume of data by processing it into information and knowledge. We may complain about data overload but we are strangers to the idea of knowledge overload. The problem could be described as a filter failure rather than information overload. When our filters fail, we end up spending time on things that we would not do if the filters were working. In some cases, it takes courage to stop opening emails that we know have no real interest to us. A more serious problem is when there are filters that we are not aware of. We may be aware of that search engines are filtering our searches, yet it may be difficult to know how to avoid the effects or at least work around the effects.

Interactivity

  • The Internet is NOT the machine that immediately gives you always the perfect answer.
The concept of search engines is interactivity: they deliver information in exchange for information from you.
Do you believe that search engines are charitable, idealistic organizations?
Search engines may provide you with information but they also want information from you.

Thus, it is not you who controls the machine.

Affirmation

  • A characteristic of the Internet is affirmation.
Search engines confirm our expectations, opinions, and ideas.

For example,  I wanted to differentiate my company for training creative thinking because the market consisted of  companies training people to use brainstorming techniques, which I consider a  weak form for creative thinking.  Brainstorming  does not fulfill the need that businesses, technical, and public organisations have concerning creative thinking. So I called my company Practice for Bold Thinking.

This resulted in my company not showing up  with search terms such as creative thinking. People looking for creative thinking will always be given links to providers using brainstorming techniques. They will not ever learn about other existing creative techniques.

The Internet reinforces opinions we may have or may have had. Thus, the way the collected data is interpreted reinforces our ideas.

The ads that I am seeing on my screen seems to be directed towards a golf enthusiastic. i must have moved to Spain to play golf and to invest my money, look at my health insurance. . . Thus, the information that has been collected by the search engine  reinforces standard thinking about people. I do not see any ads inviting me  to join the next Mount Everest expedition. Yet 90-years-olds are climbing that mountain and I am rather fit!  I do not see any ads with an invitation from Columbia university to get a degree in humanities. Or to set up a company that use fish to nibble away dead skin cells on your feet.

The Internet reinforces the idea of Wisdom of the Cloud. The items that receive the most clicks are equal to the truth. So they must be the truth. This way of working is based on the idea of consensus. However, all scientific breakthroughs are the result of breaking standard opinions about what were true till then.

Eric Drexter has suggested that next to Wikipedia there should be a Wiki of controversies. The standard Wikipedia  is the result of a process of consensus seeking, the AntiWikipedia should seek conflict. The effort required from the contributors is to make a claim pro as stark as possible, and also the opposite claim.

Then there is the trait of absence of randomness. In an earlier blog post we have stressed the importance of randomness when thinking.

Perhaps we should every time we inject a search word combine it which a word from a random word generator. The word I got was Agonist.

I tried this with the search Obesity, which I had tested before without finding any new ideas regarding  possible remedies. So I typed Obesity Agonist. I discovered the role of a 5-HT2c receptor agonist as a possible remedy against obesity.

Thus, you do not control the Internet and the Internet does not control you. “Communication” is a two-way process, even if you are typing information into a machine. In a similar way as if you do not ask your neighbour in the right questions, there is no way you will get the answer to the question regarding how much you should prune the hedge that you share. The mindset has to be that you have to be creative and inventive when you use a search engine, just like you have to when you talk to your friends, family and neighbours.

Personalisation

The full impact of personalisation puts a questions mark around the idea that the internet as a tool to opening up information.  Personalisation leads to funnelling what we see by delivering what the search engines knows, or thinks it knows, we are interested in. Personalisation can lead to a person with a good degree from a modest university from a humble background not gaining access to good jobs despite begin bright. Recruiters may target people who have graduated from certain universities and with the help of social media these people may be easier to reach. The bright student who has graduated from a modest university may never see the advert for the job. Consequently, the person will never send in an application.

If you have previously searched for articles about obesity you may get the newest research, while someone who has never searched for it but has done lots of searches about food may get links to information about links between obesity and food.

A serious consequence for society is that a person may miss out on important news because of their interest in other subjects. When a person buys a newspaper to read about a sport event, the headlines on the front page may attract his or her attention. There may be a bank crises in the country. However, on the  internet this news may not reach the person. The internet feeds a person news depending upon what he or she interacts with. Thus, a broad search using different  media is one way to make sure that we are outsmarting the Internet.

Photo “Arrows On Dartboard Showing Perfect Aiming” by Stuart Miles

Press Patterns

patternsIt is generally believed that the media are rather objective yet lightly coloured by their economic or religious values.  Media differ on a same topic in the words used in the headings, the wording, or the framing. However, there are indications that media are not so different at all. This phenomena is called MSM – Main Stream Media. Mainstream media (MSM) are those media disseminated via the largest distribution channels, which therefore represent what the majority of media consumers are likely to encounter. The term also denotes those media generally reflective of the prevailing currents of thought, influence, or activity. Therefore, operating in a logic bubble or thinking pattern.

Standard thinking, no challenge of current beliefs

Many media are largely state-owned or sponsored and therefore they are able to directly or indirectly control jobs and financing. By doing so, media is able to exert soft power to filter, frame or discredit displeasing news. Other media are private owned and they are often worse. Profits have to be made of more than 20%, yet the subscriptions go down by competition of free on-line news and as a consequence incomes by ads drop down. Consequently, there will  automatically be no time and money to carry out  investigative journalism or watchdog journalism. Nowadays most media are copying from news agencies without adding any value or suggestions.

A deadly embrace with those in power

Moreover, often there is a silent coalition between politicians and media reporters. In exchange of providing news, a scoop or granting an interview, a journalist will write “friendly” (non-critical) about the politician. Journalists are in competition with each other for access to news sources, reputation, firsts and jobs.

At the same time politicians are dependent on journalists to get heard by their voters. They are in competition for media attention, mainly with their party colleagues.

Journalists and politicians hold each other in a deadly embrace in a mechanism earlier described in our blog post How Thinking Patters Are Created. In some countries politicians have more power over the press. In other countries the press or press conglomerates control the politicians.

 polmediacomplex

The same mechanism is working in a tacit coalition between a royal family or a presidents coterie and the media and politicians, especially when corruption or sexual misbehavior is involved. We must assume that all mainstream media are covered by intelligence services who are able to mute or downplay any compromising news. Usually one or more editors are already approached for cooperation with the secret services from the beginning of their career and from that time kept dormant until required for what is euphemistically put, “important interests” of the state.

The embrace of the media with politician doesn’t only produce a standard thinking pattern amongst them, but exports that via the media to the general public. The concept is called politico-media complex.

Algorithms determines what information a user would see

Newspaper websites are starting to make stories more prominent to you if your friends have liked them on Facebook. More and more we are bound by filter bubble. The term was coined by internet activist Eli Pariser in his book by the same name; according to Pariser, users get less exposure to conflicting viewpoints and are isolated intellectually in their own informational bubble. Pariser related an example in which one user searched Google for “BP” and got investment news about British Petroleum while another searcher got information about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and that the two search results pages were “strikingly different.

How to escape Press Patterns

Non-mainstream Media refers to any other media outlet that doesn’t fall under the 90 plus percent owned by the global media conglomerates. Unlike corporate media, the non-mainstream is driven by a desire for the truth – not profits.

For headlines you don’t see on TV, see for example here or here.

Recently we came across nsnbc international which claims that there exists a global demand for a high quality, international newspaper, which is truly independent from political parties and organizations, corporate funding and state sponsorship.

Another is the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity founded in 2009 that aims to address falling standards in the media as well as a steep falloff in reporting on state government. It provides professional training; research, editorial, multimedia and technical support; and assistance with marketing and promoting the work of a nationwide network of nonprofit reporters.

The mission of the Center of Public Integrity is to enhance democracy by revealing abuses of power, corruption and betrayal of trust by powerful public and private institutions, using the tools of investigative journalism.

These American examples deserve imitation, especially in Western Europe where the general public is believing that the media are independent, which is not.

Non-mainstream Media

Non-mainstream media are also referred to as Alternative Media: newspapers, radio, television, magazines, movies, websites, blogs and twitters which provide alternative information to the MSM in a given context, whether the mainstream media are commercial, publicly supported, or government owned. There are also alternative news agencies.

Training in Economics is a Serious Handicap

ID-10056424

Or the Logical Bubble of Economists.

  • Economists decided to increase the maximum number of babies in a nursery to make the industry more profitable.
  • Economists advised to pay math teachers more, because of the shortage of them.
  • Economists recommended that employment projects for the disabled and mentally retarded should be closed… because they are not profitable.

Economists view the world in terms of supply and demand. If the supply equals the demand, the market has found equilibrium by some magical mechanism – the invisible hand. But often it is forgotten that for proper functioning there should an abundance of providers and consumers, who will act rational and not influence each other, and the prices should be known to everyone. As lot of governmental privatization projects has shown recently (hospitals, railways, home care, electricity companies) this assumption is debatable.

Traditionally, political leaders have turned to economists when the need has arisen to change behaviour, like increasing GDP, reducing unemployment, sustaining Social Security, making sure people are financially prepared for retirement, or stabilizing the financial sector. However, the poor results of deliberate policies suggest that hidden assumptions in economic theory itself cause the recurring problems. Barry Swarts in the Atlantic suggests that lawyers and economists need some help in predicting behaviour or getting people to change it. He suggests having a Council of Psychological Advisers working beside the Council of Economic Advisers.

Would that help? Or should we classify it as fighting the symptoms, instead of solving the underlying causes? The ineffectiveness of many policy interventions seems nagging, and it could point to a nine-dot problem. Could it be that the solutions are sought within the conditions and limits it imposes on itself in solving the problem?

David Orwell has dissected the paradigm of neo-classical economics.

Within economics is taken for granted:

  • The economy can be described by economic laws
  • The economy is made up of independent individuals
  • The economy is stable
  • Economic risk can be easily managed using statistics
  • The economy is rational and efficient
  • The economy is gender-neutral
  • The economy is fair
  • Economic growth can continue forever
  • Economic growth will make us happy
  • Economic growth is always good

In his book “Economyths” Orwell shows flaws in all these assumptions.

Economics gains its credibility from its association with hard sciences like physics and mathematics. Fundamentally, it is a mechanistic approach for modelling complex systems, dating back to Newton’s theories about the behaviour of independent particles, in timeless and unchanging conditions. In the 19th century, when neoclassical economics was invented, the assumption of stability was required because it would have been impossible to solve equations using the available mathematics tool. This is a known phenomena in the field of Operations Research, where a situation is modelled by using the available mathematical tools. As a result, economic data is sampled and interpreted in terms of the model, in all its neat perfection, as such creating myths about households and investors or firms that act independently and are immune to herd behaviour.

However, the “madness of crowds” could possible better described by positive feedback loops. Turning to applying modern complexity theory and system dynamics to the stock market could be more appropriate and providing instruments to make the market more robust.

But by continuing to propagate these myths, our universities and business schools sow the seeds for future financial catastrophes.

The ten pending questions by David Orwell cannot be played down as a harmless scientific debate among scientists about the foundation of  economic theory. The situation is far worse. In fact, the doctrine of the economic theory has seeped into all levels of society. Every student, not only in economics, but also in law, sociology, business, and technical studies are indoctrinated by the same inadequate theory of independent agents who transact rationally.

  • Recently a judge decided that a cardiologist, who was fired as head of the department because he revealed fatal flaws in his hospital, should not complain, because. . . he still got paid. So what is his problem?
  • Lawmakers think that if they tax the amount of kilometers a car uses, the total sum of driven kilometres in a country will decrease. However, the costs of mobility are not rational calculated.
  • To sell your home to the most likable new inhabitant, who treated you with respect and had great plans for your home, instead of the highest bidder, seems for most people absurd. This is not rational, yet not irrational.
  • It is widely assumed that traffic violations can best be countered by higher fines, but is it?

However, there are some optimistic signs that the dominance of neo-classical economics will cahnge. Some new scientific theories are emerging, like ecological economics, which takes into account the costs of using natural resources, and behavioural economics. Recently some promising social innovations were designed, as by the Nudge.

It addresses the idea of Kahneman  that humans posses two systems. System 1, the fast, effortless system that does the automatic thinking and a slow System 2 that monitors and controls system 1, but is lazy and effort-full. Also, that there are two forms of parallel species: Humans, who live in the real world, and need some protection against weaknesses and exploitation, and Econs who live in a theoretical world and do not make mistakes. Humans and Econs are reflected in the two selves: the experiencing self who does the living and the remembering self that keeps the score and makes choices.

For now, mistrust standard economic reasoning, even it is from non-economists.

See also the blog about Concept Maps and Reasoning and Intuition.

Go here to Buy our  eBook.

Photo: “Business Graph” by digitalart

Exciting Ways to Store Data

Creative ways to think about data storage

A book in a test tube. All the information on Internet stored on a device the size of our thumb! We live in an age of information abundance and new ways to think about data storage is emerging. How can information and data be stored and presented?

An exciting way to deal with digital data is to encode a book into the genetic molecules of DNA. Text sections can be translated into DNA, the basic building blocks of life – four bases adenine (abbreviated A), cytosine (C), guanine (G) and thymine (T). First, a digital version was made of book about genetic. The zeros was translated into either A or C and the ones into either G or T. Shorts strands of actual DNA was created using laboratory techniques and each strand contained a portion of the text.  Billions of books can fit into a test tube – as a viscous liquid or sold salt it can last for centuries. This way of storing data is exploring ways that allows for more capacity than computer chips and drives.

image

The idea to use DNA to store information such as books, photographs, and videos shows that new exciting ways to think about data is emerging. Today you can spell your initials or name DNA code. Maybe your signed painting could be stored in a test tube in the future.  DNA has also been used to encode music and poetry. The code was stored inside bacteria cells.  Memory devices based on living cells have also been created.  In the future, this device may travel through the body to record early sign of disease.

Nanotechnology

The power of ideas steaming from nanotechnology is mind blowing. Nanotechnology refers to engineering at molecular level. The advances in nanotechnology have lead to new ways of storing information. Increasingly smaller and more powerful computer chips have meant that we can create systems where things are connected to the Internet. And the content in your fridge can be available to an on-board computer that orders food when you run out. Suggestions for recipes that are suitable for the content in your fridge are possible by using controlled devices.

Future developments are possible by using smaller and smaller chips. DNA-based computers may work in the future to collect information and combat diseases. The boundaries are pushed; computing has come a long way. New machines working on the nanoscale, as well as the manipulation of strands of DNA suggest new creative ways to store information.

Below is  a picture of data over tropical storms since 1851.The trend and how the storms relate to each other over time provides a spooky image. A hurricane over 160 years of hurricanes! It looks like hurricanes are fractals for a giant hurricane.A fractal has low Kolmogorov complexity, which means that you can use a simple rule to describe how you generate the picture. A fractal may contain little information but the looks very complicated.

Infographic

Changes and Challenges

Many of these solutions may change the way we look upon data. After all, there are huge differences in storing a book in a bookshelf and in a test tube. What are the consequences of these changes? And how do you interpret a picture where hundreds of years of data has been used? In the next blog post, we will continue to explore this exciting subject. What creative ways of using and storing data can you think of?

Concept Maps – Rather Confusing

Recently we make  concept maps about data, information, logic bubbles, concepts and idea. A concept map is a diagram showing the relationships among concepts. They are graphical tools for organising and representing knowledge.

Understanding the relations between data, information, logic bubbles, concepts and ideas is important to get essential insight into the art of creative thinking, irrespective of what creative thinking tool you are using.

This is our preliminary result or a work in progress. We will expand the maps when our understanding deepens. What is a concept?  And where is it made ​​from? What influences a logic bubble?

  • Data organises itself into information.
  • A concept makes sense of information and selects data.
  • A concept abstracts from ideas, at the same time an idea carries out a concept: makes a concept practical.
  • Concepts and ideas challenge a logic bubble.
  • A logic bubble bounds a concept and limits ideas.
  • Ideas challenge data and information.
        Or show in another way.

Photo:  “Sky Stones” by Salvatore Vuono