Uncharted: Big Data as a Lens on Human Culture

Uncharted: Big Data as a Lens on Human Culture


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Breaking open Big Data, two Harvard scientists reveal a ground-breaking way of looking at history and culture.

One of the greatest untapped resources of today isn’t offshore oil or natural gas—it’s data. Gigabytes, exabytes (that’s one quintillion bytes) of data are sitting on servers across the world. So how can we start to access this explosion of information, this “big data,” and what can it tell us?
Erez Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel are two young scientists at Harvard who started to ask those questions. They teamed up with Google to create the Ngram Viewer, a Web-based tool that can chart words throughout the massive Google Books archive, sifting through billions of words to find fascinating cultural trends. On the day that the Ngram Viewer debuted in 2010, more than one million queries were run through it.
On the front lines of Big Data, Aiden and Michel realized that this big dataset—the Google Books archive that contains remarkable information on the human experience—had huge implications for looking at our shared human history. The tool they developed to delve into the data has enabled researchers to track how our language has evolved over time, how art has been censored, how fame can grow and fade, how nations trend toward war. How we remember and how we forget. And ultimately, how Big Data is changing the game for the sciences, humanities, politics, business, and our culture.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781594487453
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/26/2013
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Erez Aiden is a Fellow at the Harvard Society and a former visiting faculty member at Google. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from Barack Obama. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Jean-Baptiste Michel is a French and Mauritian scientist at Harvard University and a former visiting faculty member at Google. He was a 2012 TED Fellow and recently named one of Forbes “30 under 30.” He lives in New York.

Table of Contents

1 Through the Looking Glass 1

How many words is a picture worth? 24

2 G. K. Zipf and the Fossil Hunters

Burnt, baby, burnt 51

3 Armchair Lexicographerologists 53

Daddy, where do babysitters come from? 79

4 7.5 Minutes of Fame 81

One giant leapfrog for mankind 120

5 The Sound of Silence 122

Two rights make another right 150

6 The Persistence of Memory 152

Mommy, where do Martians come from? 182

7 Utopia, Dystopia, and Dat(a)topia 185

Appendix: Great Battles of History 213

Acknowledgments 238

Notes 243

Index 273

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From the Publisher

“One of the most exciting developments from the world of ideas in decades, presented with panache by two frighteningly brilliant, endearingly unpretentious, and endlessly creative young scientists.” – Steven Pinker, author of The Better Angels of Our Nature

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