Cognitive Computing

Bringing Cognitive to Data Visualization

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The goal of data visualization is to help explain complex data-driven trends, patterns, and correlations quickly and easily through imagery. And while traditional methods of data visualization have focused on interactive graphics, an exciting new trend is emerging that captures the movement of data in video.

In my work at IBM’s Cognitive Visualization Lab, I build tools that help people disseminate information as short videos – where the data and the visualizations are the actors. In 2016, I put some of these tools to work to build a short video to augment the work of three of my colleagues at Northeastern University, who wrote and published a paper in Nature on resilience patterns in complex networks.

In the paper, professors Jianxi Gao, Baruch Barzel, and Albert-László Barabási, explain their formula to calculate the potential impacts to networks when things are added or removed from those networks.

The video I created, Network Earth, helps illustrate their theory by visually depicting the symbiotic relationship and mutualism between a handful of ant species and the plants upon which they depend, across Australia and New Guinea.

Anonychomyrma gilbert, for example, is an ant that lives in and around 19 different types of plant. Its food comes from the juices of these plants. In return, one of these plants, the Adenia heterophylla, a vine that grows in the coastal regions, benefits from Anonychomyrma gilberti’s protection from Greta obo, the glasswing butterfly that feeds on it.

In Network Earth the visualizations fluidly illustrate the potential impact of changes to this species’ ecosystem when slight or dramatic changes in connections occur. It also depicts the potential impact to the millions of connections between the other 40 ants and 49 plants in the network – all of which would have to occur in order to maintain equilibrium.

To build the video I used our latest Network Data API and was able to plot the dynamic networks of the theoretical physics behind the resilience of complex networks, with the real world network of ants and plants of Australia.

This week, the National Science Foundation awarded Network Earth a Vizzie for best data video in 2016. As data volumes continue to grow and expand, new and exciting ways to capture the insights within that data will continue to evolve and aid man in its quest for greater understanding.

Manager, IBM Cognitive Visualization Lab; Professor of Practice, Northeastern University

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