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Your data, your future

Data is like DNA – a bit missing here and there and things go seriously wrong. And the more data we churn out, the greater the chances it gets lost or into the wrong hands. But data is essential to science and to our well-being, so we have to handle it better. We also have to face growing concerns about the direction the internet (cloud computing, social networking) is heading, about the security of private data and online identity. There are good reasons to encourage an open internet, but threats to infrastructure, personal data and safety can’t be ignored. Data mining and search developments are looking at smarter ways to store, retrieve and match up data so that it can be called ‘information’ in the truest sense, not meaningless entries in obsolete databases. Let’s see how Mark Zuckerberg deals with that!

Visual masters tame the data monster

Advances in IT both fuel the data explosion and offer solutions for managing it. Network visualisation using new analytical tools is the way forward, say the experts, extracting information and generating knowledge from these rich data resources.

But the EU-backed Vismaster project realised early on that taming the data monster would require more than technological solutions alone – the way humans interact with data is just as important. Visual analytics methods combine human flexibility, creativity, and backstory with the huge storage and processing abilities of today’s computers to gain insight into complex data-rich problems, from climate science to quantum physics.

The days of hand-drawn tree diagrams to understand complex relationships between things are long gone. With advanced visual analytics programs and tools the network of associations takes shape almost magically, converting reems of data into works of visual art like the ‘magic eye view’, ‘fish eye tree view’, ‘3D sunburst’ and ‘tree cube’. The project galvanised a community around this emerging field, and its research road map and new web presence is paving the way for visual analytics to become a major tool of scientific discovery.