This piece is part of By Design, a Globe and Mail/OCAD University summer series highlighting design thinking, issues and innovation. Previously: Innovation agenda, Urban agriculture, Social or precarious economy
Patricio Davila is associate professor, director of the Zero Lab and a member of the Visual Analytics Laboratory at OCADU. Sara Diamond is president of OCADU and director of the Visual Analytics Laboratory. Steve Szigeti is a researcher and manager of the Visual Analytics Laboratory.
We need the skills of designers and artists, and widespread data literacy, to ensure that Canada succeeds in the Big Data era.
We can describe data as one of the remarkable new materials of the 21st century – as important to our future as water. Data are measurements of other things: physical phenomena (such as weather patterns) or virtual phenomena (such as telecommunications packets). Every time we search for an online movie, view a video on our mobile device, tweet a comment about a news article, upload a photo to Instagram or are directed to a new location in Pokemon Go, we are producing and responding to data.
Discoverability, the ability to find what we want through harnessing our data traces, has redefined distribution. Similarly, it is through data analytics that personalized advertisements appear adjacent to or are embedded in our online experiences.
Data will be a critical part of our future. The blockchain transformation in peer-secured financial and contractual transactions relies on sophisticated analytics to produce, exchange and archive a digital database. CRISPR genome editing samples and modifies genetic data to modify human bodies. Increasingly connected devices and systems – vehicles, smart homes, health analytics, mobile devices, remote environmental controls of buildings, wearable fitness technology and embedded experiences – produce data and are driven by data management.
The ability to understand and use data-based systems is required and will be even more so in democratic life, whether urban planning, transportation, economic development, health-care improvement, security, education or social and cultural interventions. Our ability to produce, monitor and manage our personal data, sometimes described as “the quantified self,” will increasingly intersect with our health and insurance data. There are implications for privacy that require that we understand the connections of our small data and Big Data.
Through design thinking and foresight, we can use qualitative and ethnographic knowledge to bring human factors and needs into dialogue with the artificial intelligence and machine learning that drives data analytics. We can better identify trends and anticipate events and behaviours. We need to make informed choices about which decisions can and should be automated through the intelligent systems that are able to analyze and act on data faster than human intervention.
Here’s the challenge: For humans, data are meaningless without curation, interpretation and representation.