Jake Timothy

thinking in models

Month: April, 2016

Modeling Humans

The people with the most insight into people’s decisions and motivations tend not to be the same people who design models and systems for data.  My wife, for example, has a prophetic intuition about people.  She “just knows” what someone is up to and why, what’s going on in different relationships.  She would never let on how much she sees, even if asked directly, because it would make the person uncomfortable.  She also couldn’t read a statistical graphic to save her life.  Over the decades, much of the artificial intelligence thought space has been shaped around understanding human intelligence, on metaphysical and biological levels.  With the growth of AI and data science in recent years, technology is poised to take immediate advantage of any new insight that can be captured and instrumented into a practical model.  Just as there are classic and quantum mechanical models for physics, there are economic, sociological, and psychological models for human behavior.  Collaboration between data and relational thinkers on human insight is a great opportunity to push data science forward.

Graphical Excellence

Edward Tufte, in his much loved The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, lays out a clean approach to data graphics and visualization.  By thinking carefully about representing the data and analysis with context and the efficient use of “ink”, a graphic has a better chance of telling the real story.

An example that caught my eye a while back is Norse’s live cyber attack map.  Notice the heat map that builds up as time progresses, a visual representation of the aggregating tables beneath.  I find it much more informative than the dramatic exploding circles that emanate from both attackers and targets.

Javascript libraries such as D3.js have enabled the creation of graphics with more design dimensions and options while maintaining clarity and efficiency.  Graphics have been dynamic for some time with the ability to depict three spatial dimensions, change over time, and to be interactive, encompassing multiple views in one, and the design space continues to grow with the advent of augmented and virtual reality technologies. Integrated systems for analysis and visualization, like Tableau, have made and will continue to make the process of generating graphics easy.  However, when designing for publication in a website or app, taking the time to refine the graphics is vital.  Avoiding distracting or distorting elements will continue to be absolutely important for the audience to have the best chance of correctly understanding the information as communication media evolve.