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InformationWeek 500: Using Sound, Video To Represent Data

A University of California at Santa Barbara researcher uses sound to highlight patterns hidden in complex data sets and present a more tangible representation to users.
"We're convinced as artists that we can actually start to use our senses to understand data, that we can parse data the way we see, hear and taste the physical world," she said. Patterns in the data that trigger sounds would make those patterns readily identifiable to a listener.

A scientist, who was skeptical that a visual and sonic representation of the data of a hydrogen atom would change his thinking on the nature of hydrogen, came out of the AlloSphere with a different frame of mind. After seeing what a more tangible representation of the data, he said, "The sound signatures of an atom can create a new vocabulary that will let us push on to the next level."

Kuchera-Morin said soldiers can be taught how to react when under attack or what to do at the sound of gunfire. But throw in the smell of gun powder, and they react on a more instinctive level. Equations and large data sets likewise can elicit a different reaction in the analyst when the data is transformed into sound and images, she said.

There are future uses of such data representations in the business world, she assured her listeners. But it will take a combination of artists, engineers and business analysts to assess what's inside the data, determine what patterns the business user is looking for and how to represent it in more tangible form when it's found. Data explorations, like those executed in the AlloSphere, will require a collaboration of parties that have not previously joined forces to see how far new, sensory representations of data can go and what they may reveal.

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