The Data Decade: TEDx Vancouver

If TEDx Vancouver taught me anything, it’s that this is shaping up to be the Decade of Data: how we collect it, how we share it, and how we can use it to build a better world.
TEDx Vancouver hosted 16 speakers and an audience of 1000 at the University of British Columbia’s Chan Centre on November 12th, 2011. Here’s a round-up of four speakers that left an impression on me: data-related or otherwise.

Gamers, It Turns Out, Make Excellent Biochemists

Seth Cooper knows a thing or two about computer science and engineering. He is the creative director of the Center for Game Science at the University of Washington where he focuses on using video games to solve difficult scientific problems. He is also the co-partner of a new project called Foldit. It’s a scientific discovery game that has allowed gamers to advance the field of biochemistry through puzzles. In fact, you may have read about it in the news. In just three weeks, Foldit gamers were able to predict the structure of the HIV Enzyme, a protein that has stumped biochemists for a very long time. News of this discovery and how the gamers did it made international headlines.

We Share Content In Waves Called Cascades

Jer Thorp is currently the Data Artist in Residence at the New York Times. Together with the research and developement department at the NYTimes, he’s been working on a new data visualization project called Cascades which was featured in Mashable earlier this year.

Cascades visually represents what happens when readers tweet about New York Times articles. You can click here to watch a short clip that demonstrates what a cascade looks like and how it’s formed. One of Jer’s favourite cascades was one he named the “Rabbi Cascade.” It’s a small cascade that a group of rabbis on Twitter started when they shared an article from the New York Times. You can measure exactly when conversations like this start on Twitter and when they end when people share New York Times content.

The Ocean is Connected to the Internet (For Real)

Dr. Kate Moran heads up the Neptune Project at the University of Victoria, which connects the ocean floor off the West Coast of Canada to the internet through underwater cables. At the end of each cable rests a device that measures seafloor stability, tectonics and paleo-climates. All of this data travels through Neptune’s underwater internet cables into your desktop computer or personal device where you can volunteer to help interpret it. Dr. Moran is, effectively, crowd-sourcing the content of the ocean and turning us into scientific researchers, working from the comfort of our own homes.

Carl Sagan had a Radio Voice

Reid Gower is the architect behind “The Sagan Series” which borrows excerpts from Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot” on audio tape and adds a musical score and film footage to create digital montages. The first part of this series titled “The Frontier is Everywhere” has been viewed more than 1,450,000 times on Youtube. This video opened up TEDx Vancouver and introduced the event theme: Frontiers.

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