When art collides with data | Carrie Roy | TEDxMileHighWomen

Translator: Rhonda Jacobs
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven I am a data artist. I work to transform numbers into art, and that art helps people
engage with information. I work with experts
in many different fields, and that is awesome. But sometimes, the collaborative process
can begin like a bad joke. A journalist and a data artist
walk into a bar. (Laughter) And the journalist says she wants
to convey how important it is that massive amounts of dairy farm manure
stays out of our drinking water. At this point,
I slide my water to the side; I am just drinking beer. (Laughter) She says in Brown County, Wisconsin, there’s on average a half cow
for every acre of agricultural land. Now I think in pictures, so I’m envisioning this landscape
dotted with half-Holsteins. But I wonder, how much waste
does each produce? I look it up: 65 pounds
of manure in one day. And I remember thinking,
yes, that’s a lot of manure! (Laughter) But I’m not exactly sure how much;
it’s hard to visualize. Now, maybe it was the beer,
but the numbers sparked my imagination. What if I had people stand next to it? Like this life-sized half-cow standing
on whatever 65 pounds of manure is. Now, as an artist, this is a big job. A life-sized half-cow is a challenge, and when you have a big challenge,
you want to use your best tools. So, I used my computer,
three saws, an angle grinder, and my vision as a sculptor; and Ms. Brown, as we call her,
emerged from the wood chips and went on to tour seven cities,
raising awareness on water quality issues. We have data visualization
down to a science, when I would argue
some data require more humanity, a reflection on the memories, emotions, and sensory experiences
that make us human. Graphs and charts are great for some data, but we have an increasing need
to integrate many types of data to enable new insights. So I’m going to touch
on the following three data challenges: grabbing attention,
making the abstract tangible, and tackling complexity. And here too, as humans, we need to use our best tools
to address these challenges. So number one: I could draw on a map
where the threatened sage grouse lives, or I could show you
hundreds of images where it lives and help us reflect on
the human impact on its habitat. I could tell you that one in three wells
in the state of Wisconsin has detectable levels
of pesticide or herbicide, or evoke your memory
of approaching a faucet in this sculpture, the middle third being black walnut, a wood that’s toxic
when you first cut into it. When we are awash in information
every single day, these powerful tools –
our memories, emotions, and senses – can help us pause to think more deeply
about an issue we decide to care about. Related to the challenge
of grabbing attention is number two:
making the abstract tangible. 1,275 people responded
to the survey prompt, “What is a fake piece of hair
worn by a man?” Most said toupee, wig, hairpiece, rug, and all their responses are represented
by different colors and patterns here. Now, sure, only one person
said, “cootie garage,” (Laughter) one person said, “S.I.B., Some is Bought.” My favorite, “sky piece,” I celebrated with the comb-over-inspired
pattern you see at the bottom. Now you see it, yes. Typical charts don’t let you explore
the statistically insignificant, but in this case, they were hilarious, and they help highlight
our human tool of humor and how enjoyable it can be to use. What words were used
only by female Victorian authors, or only by male Victorian authors? I could show you the list,
or I could show you… Well, here are three words from the list. ‘Comfits’ is from the female list. Comfits is a sugar-coated Victorian treat. Or, I could transform the results
through 3-D printing into a Victorian inkwell, a metaphor that illuminates
the different wells of words these men or women drew from
and help us reflect on why. How Southern was William Faulkner? 83 per cent, based on
running Faulkner’s works against Southern words from the Dictionary
of American Regional English. Now most surprising
was just how bad a computer was at identifying Southern regionalisms:
only about five per cent correct. The human component
is celebrated in this work: a collection of his works in a book, when opened to 83 per cent,
reveals a portrait of the author. This art and research walks the line
between culture and data in a way that challenges us. I see my art as sketches
in how we relate to information, but they also fuel my imagination regarding how we can engage
with information in the future. And this brings us
to number three: complexity, a challenge requiring
our most advanced tools. In my field of digital humanities, we take the most beautiful works
of human expression and turn them into numbers
to help us answer questions. For example, Charles Dickens died halfway through writing
The Mystery of Edwin Drood. We analyzed all of Dickens’ other works in an attempt to predict as much
as we could about the missing chapters. Everyone wants to know who did it, right? Well we had a steamer trunk full of data, word length, character count,
gender analysis, and much more, but very little that would
satisfy a mystery lover. Now maybe, if we could have integrated
more of these bits and pieces of data, it could’ve brought us a bit closer, but it’s a big challenge. A common challenge today – multiple streams of data,
related, but separate, and we are missing
the big, compelling story. In healthcare, how can we help children
with type 1 diabetes, and their families, make sense of three sources of data? So, carbohydrates
– those are their meals – with insulin doses
help keep their blood glucose levels from getting too high or too low. Well, humans are uniquely playful,
another great tool, so I sought inspiration from games. I combined the data into one landscape. So, clouds are carbohydrates, the landscape is an area graph
of blood glucose, with red at dangerously
high or low levels, and then a stream
of insulin dosing runs beneath. All of the numbers
are visually represented here, and the goal is simple:
a rolling green landscape. By combining the data into one landscape, it’s easier to integrate
the three types of data, and we can see how one affects another. In a calendar setting, families can make sense
of daily or weekly trends. I grew up reading physical landscapes,
trapping gophers in North Dakota. Animals leave a wealth of data
in their environment. In this picture, the feathers
and the animal tracks tell a story of a bird
grabbing its prey and lifting off. About a decade ago,
I interviewed an old trapper, and he said something
that caught my attention: “I would only set traps for male mink.” And I said, “How could you tell
that they were male?” He said their tracks were slightly larger. He went on to note that their tracks
could indicate an animal’s maturity, how fast they were going, where they were likely
coming from or going to based on food or water in the area, clues on timing of movement and more. We are all here today
because our ancestors mastered this tool: the ability to read all of these points
of information, data, in a 3-D environment and synthesize the information
to form a full, compelling story. Now, what if that animal
were financial markets or human health? These examples are also
part of complex data landscapes. While we’re good
at identifying important data, we tend to separate it out,
separate graphs, and then we miss the big picture. Can you imagine if we did that
with animal tracks? I mean, sure, we could
identify the species, but all those other details I mentioned
would be lost without context. And mink don’t leave symbols
or colors on an X-Y axis. This takes mental energy to keep straight. We can interpret data left by the mink because we know what a mink looks like,
moves like, and the ground. The physical world
is our framework for interpretation. But we could really use any familiar
framework to help us engage with data. I’ve described data in landscapes,
but they exist on objects as well. For generations,
master stoneworkers or woodworkers have carefully read 3-D information on the surface of a stone
or a piece of wood, and they rely on that information
to precisely cut, strike, or cleave that unique raw material
into their vision, and their art is a testament
to this remarkable human tool. One obvious challenge is we’ve never been able to create
high resolution data objects or data landscapes
quickly or inexpensively. Virtual reality could change this. I describe WordCAKE
as word clouds on steroids because it helps you see
how high frequency words are trending over multiple
texts over time, so each ring is a text. And here we see the Presidential
State of the Union speeches from Reagan through Obama. The idea is: what is central is central. The highest frequency word
is ‘people’ in the center of this tunnel. It’s used 72 times
by Bill Clinton in 1995. There I just forked the word
to highlight every instance over time. You can use a knife
to highlight one slice of it. This is a rich CAKE. Standing in the middle of WordCAKE
is a surreal experience, but somewhat grounded in metaphor. There are as many different ways
to engage with information as there are metaphors
or physical interactions in our world. Our computer interfaces
are heavily influenced by print culture and rely on flat surfaces. In my research, I could compare two
versions of a text like this on a screen, or I could hold the five versions
of the Gettysburg Address in my hand, where identical sections attract
and differences repel. In 3-D, it’s a simple, elegant display – no codes or symbols to interpret. But it’s way too much work to make. Now, in virtual reality,
we could instantly compare dozens or hundreds of texts
or genomes in this manner. This point on the spectrum
of object-inspired but digitally-rendered allows for interaction,
selection, context, and comparison, where I believe
the future of innovation lies. I’ll end on why this is important. If we can present data in a new way,
perhaps we attract new perspectives and new minds
that think a bit differently, and that sparks innovative ideas. Maybe a visual learner, who struggled
through Shakespeare in school, sees visualizations
of character activity throughout Hamlet and finds an intriguing pattern. Now she’s reading Shakespeare again,
asking exciting new questions. Our relationship with data
is more than science or numbers. We’re human. We desire landscapes to explore,
we desire objects to examine, we desire handles
for grasping abstract numbers, and information to encounter
in new environments. I believe we need to do more
than just read numbers. We need to experience them. Thank you. (Applause)


  • Divy Shah

    All we need is reference.

  • New Dove

    I love this idea so much.

  • pinkypiee

    Wow ✨👍🏻

  • Ben Oliveira

    Very good!

  • Sayyam Luhadiya

    Wow! Its just amazing!
    Why is this video not so popular!?
    It deserves more views and likes

  • Cristiano Peron

    Parabéns pelo canal, sempre top…

  • franciscomoutinho1

    This is entertainng but seems mostly distracting from the data.

  • Alex Lopez

    Such a sophisticated, eloquent, and innovative woman. My respects to her!



  • Joseph Calderon

    I remember her from tv series knock first,which aired on abc family(now freeform)back in 2003. she doesn't look as very hot as the last time i've seen her on that program.

  • Marcelle Allen

    Favorite quote: "Don't just read numbers, experience them!" – Carrie Roy

  • Ste

    Which is why studying is different from learning: new data can be memorized in any time, but being able to apply the data to reality is a more challenging thing to do and it's what true learning is. Art combined with tech can be very useful and beneficial to the learning process because it's a multi-dimensional approach to data.

    Great speech!

  • Rohit Goswami

    Hello Carrie welcome dear god bless u sweetheart

  • A C

    she's a real artist. she brings out the poetry in data

  • T Rad

    So she'ss into manipulation of human's minds business, I got it.

  • Lex Effect

    Why would anyone thumbs this down, it's a revolutionary concept

  • Seymor BUTTS

    There's urine found in every beer but Guinness beer

  • Jhaman Rahwani

    Nice Ideas.

  • Chemoraz THE ALCHEMIST

    Why is the audience all women?


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