I now blog at amy.world. Head over to keep in touch with my random musings and various endeavors.
A map created using Quid showing news articles about neuroscience discoveries made possible with DTI (Diffusion Tensor Imaging). DTI reveals tracts of white matter connectivity in the brain, allowing us to see which regions of the brain are talking to one another.
An Ecosystem of DTI Discoveries
About the map: Each of those colored dots is one news story. Dots are called nodes. They are connected by lines called edges. Using natural language processing, algorithms can read the text content of articles and assess content. What is the article about? What are the key concepts? This information creates a similarity matrix of sorts, describing nodes by attributes. These attributes define the physical layout of the network. Articles most closely linked are grouped in clusters called communities.
This map shows an initial set of 550 nodes arranged into network view. Each node repels other nodes, making the communities with fewer connections move farther apart and those with more connections cluster together. It’s all generated in Quid.
A network layout is just the first step. For it to be useful, I need to understand it.
Next comes my favorite: human exploration.
It takes work to make sense of a complex ecosystem of information. Here’s my technique to tackle a network: Make a first pass, exploring each cluster. As I slowly begin to familiarize myself with the graph, I give each community a name.The cluster names are added manually, so it’s helpful to explore the largest nodes and nodes that stand out. Along the way, I save articles of interest.
Once each community is named, it’s easier to dive into details that make a big picture – the individual stories of scientific discoveries. I particularly love looking at stories that bridge two or more distinct communities.
Now that I’ve collected links, it’s time to embark upon digesting 20+ articles and abstracts spanning things like white matter connectivity associated with self esteem, the neuroscience of risk-taking, and even the links between physical fitness and brain health. Stay tuned for my completed thoughts next month in Scientific American and hit me up on Twitter if this post gave you any ideas!
Over the years, TEDx Music has grown from a small collection of a few songs to an exquisitely diverse curated catalog of over 600 tracks on SoundCloud. Getting music out there is no longer enough – it’s time to build software that facilitates discovery.
Drawing inspiration from network data visualization and systems ecology, we created an interactive map of a world of innovative music. In the talk below from TEDxIstanbul, I show the TEDx Music Map for the first time. We hope to release this soon so anyone can play with it.
What’s next for TEDx Music
TEDx Music releases new tracks every Tuesday. Once we refine the interactive visualization and open it to the public, we’ll begin creating a pipeline that automatically analyzes each new song using Spotify’s Echonest API, populating the viz with new nodes for each performance released. In the future, you’ll be able to see exactly where each new track sits relative to a global catalog.
We’re also working to bring a map-based visualization to life, enabling navigation by location. Imagine zooming into Japan and being able to hear all the music that has been performed in Tokyo.
As for artists, we plan to create a TEDx Musician Map, enabling exploration of the creative minds behind the music. In much in the same way that TED convenes people who share a love of ideas, it’s my hope that TEDx Music becomes a platform for we who love music.
Finally, in the interest of going beyond cool and into something scientific, I’m organizing collaborative research with Berklee College of Music to evolve this music dataviz prototype into a next generation tool through which we burst the filter bubble of music.
Think about it: how do you search for something if you don’t know it exists? This problem plagues the music industry. People discover by blogs, word of mouth, and radio station autoplay recommendations. But what if there was a better way? A way where you actively control your trajectory, where the unknown manifests right before your eyes? That’s where we’re heading. The future may well be an ode to awesome.
Huge thanks to TED, TEDx, Zach Zimbler, Eric Berlow, Elena Crescia, Gaurav Gupta, Andrew Karnavas, and Tim Gnass. Also thank you to everyone else who has helped with TEDx Music over the years. And thank YOU for listening. The best is yet to come! Here’s to creating the future we imagine :)
Want to get involved in TEDx Music? Email me amy at tedxmusicproject dot com.
Social networks are abuzz with Deep Dream, Google Research’s trippy new inceptionism AI that sequentially enhances what it thinks are key features of images. You can tweak a number of parameters, producing pictures that range from fantastical to nightmarish.
I gave it a try using some of my Instagram pics (@amyleerobinson). But why stop there? With the help of Dreamscope, I gave both my friends and Instagram’s top celebrities the honor of a #deepdream treatment ;) Enjoy the weirdness.
Create your own images using Dreamscope.
I love to create, to build things. Especially things bringing people together. Here are a couple ideas I’ve been working on lately. If you think any of them are interesting, connect with me. They’re all in active brainstorm mode.
Rebuilt TEDx Music Project and have been thinking a lot about how to structure visualizations of its hundreds of tracks. So far we’re leaning toward geotag for a world map of TEDx music. There’s also navigation, which might be made interestingly interactive by making a network map of communities of songs with similar attributes, such as genre, instrument or danceability. Installation on a big touchscreen. Ideas and collabs welcome.
Redoing the TEDx music site reminded me of Project HAO and that now I can actually probably set it up pretty easily. So I will. Looks like we can send a hammock + stand to US planetariums for under 200 bucks through Amazon, so I’ll probably set it up where 20 people each donate $10 and when the 20th name comes in *boom* we sent a hammock to a planetarium and are on our way towards hooking up the next. Extra funds can be used in the future to pay for international shipping once all the US planetariums have hammocks.
I’m also gearing up to do a posture measurement with Vicon motion capture software with the wonderful biomechatronics guys at MIT Media Lab. I’m going to wear ~100 sensors, do a sequences of moves and be tracked in 360 degrees at .2 mm precision. The idea is to be strategic in stretches. If one could identify asymmetries, torsions or other malalignments in posture, one could theoretically choose stretches to correct them. I’m going to test that out.
Learning about neurotech has been mind-blowing. I’m attending a pilot class at MIT this semester about how technology is catapulting neuroscience. Along the way we’ve gone from measuring genetic changes in cells to imaging an entire brain. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing professors and graduate students; seeing and using the tools. We’re currently half way through a Scientific American blog series from EyeWire that shares the experience with the world. Excited to write up the rest. So far it’s been fodder for fascinating conversations.
I titled this post “Build” because I suddenly felt compelled to share things I am building. Side projects you have here, mostly. Love a good side project. Love to learn of yours! And I was serious about that first paragraph.
PS: recent additions to my Epic Pics folder:
“The furnace of affliction produces refinement, in states as well as individuals.” John Adams
Last night we watched the fireworks in Boston. I marveled at the pyrotechnics. Color changing, sky spanning spectacles in a single blast. Even smiley face fireworks. (how do fireworks work?)
History came to mind. A ponderance: what do you think it was like for the signers of the Declaration of Independence on July 3, the day before they lay their names on the creation of a nation? One that 250 years later I would grow up in and through opportunities travel beyond, into the world and build ideas into collaborations, meeting new people and discovering infinite wonders. So today I googled July 3, 1776 and found some interesting letters from John Adams.
Rather legitimately inspiring to read concepts catalyzing a country to form.
I am surprised at the suddenness as well as greatness of this revolution. … Time has been given for the whole people maturely to consider the great question of independence, and to ripen their judgment, dissipate their fears, and allure their hopes, by discussing it in newspapers and pamphlets – by debating it in assemblies, conventions, committees of safety and inspection – in town and country meetings, as well as in private conversations; so that the whole people, in every colony, have now adopted it as their own act. “
Adams even gave suggestions for future independence-celebrating generations: “The second day of July, 1776, will be memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations, as the great Anniversary Festival… It ought to be solemnized with pomp, shews, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward forever.” Did you notice he says July 2nd? That’s the day the Continental Congress voted unanimously to instigate a revolution.
You will think me transported with enthusiasm; but I am not. I am well aware of the toil, and blood, and treasure, that it will cost us to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these states. Yet, through all the gloom, I can see the rays of light and glory; I can see that the end is more than worth all the means, and that posterity will triumph, although you and I may rue, which I hope we shall not.
On this day, we Americans celebrate freedom. I appreciate it and life in general. After traveling to many countries and especially spending time in post-revolution Egypt on the grips of returning to dictatorship, I am reminded how many a people remain in states of oppression and lack basic rights of life and liberty. I tip my beer to you brave ones who have the wisdom to research other revolutions and the courage to catalyze your own. I suppose there is also that bit of revolution ready to happen inside each of us. A little spark that can be fanned into a daring risk, a scary change. Here’s hoping we all get a little fire in our veins today and always.
Happy Independence Day
Draft Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson 1776
“These United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states, and as such they have, and of right ought to have, full power to make war, conclude peace, establish commerce, and to do all the other acts and things which other states may rightfully do.”
A recent article in Harvard Business Review hit several key points I frequently find myself debating with colleagues who exhibit less than an optimistic stance toward the future of robotics and tech in society. Enjoy some fodder for your next futuristic philosophical discussion.
“It is becoming increasingly feasible and cost-effective today for robots to assume many of the repetitive, labor-intensive tasks that are part of many people’s jobs. … I do mean fortunately, because it is often these tasks that define the least meaningful and rewarding aspects of a person’s job.“
I once mused on Quora that the biggest real first world problem is apathy. People too often live out their lives doing jobs they don’t really care about simply because those jobs pay the bills.
The past 20 months of my life have been spent at a computational neuroscience lab at MIT. I have a resounding, extraordinary respect for the capacity of a human mind. I find it sad – borderline tragic – for the majority of an adult’s life to be spent on a job that does not capitalize on the exquisite capacity of his or her mind. I personally find relief that there will be more creative, challenging jobs and fewer tedious, dangerous, repetitive ones in coming years.
Some think unemployment will skyrocket. Jobs will decline. Have those people forgotten the Industrial Revolution? It was challenging, but no doubt mankind has come out ahead. One glance through Steven Pinker’s stats tells you that we’re living in the most peaceful and healthy time in all of human history.
Thanks in part to an industrialized world, we enjoy modern resources like clean water and pleasures like the web. Job diversity has soared.
“The robot has effectively assumed the responsibility for the dull, dirty or dangerous task – but has not replaced the human responsible for getting that job done. The robot in this equation is a tool – not at all unlike what a PC is for an office worker, a tractor is for a farmer, or a nail gun is to a home builder. All of those technologies were once speculated to be replacing or at least reducing the need for the humans that wielded them. Yet all of those professions still exist today, and the workers in those fields are better, happier, and more productive because of them.”
For more perspective on tech and innovation, I highly recommend The Pixar Story. In a nutshell, this documentary chronicles the co-evolution of computers and animation. Pixar saw computers as a tool for humans, not a substitute. Computers are not innately creative. They wouldn’t on their own accord animate Toy Story or Avatar. But humans with computers..now that’s a recipe for marvel. The same could be said for robotics. And with solid societal purpose.
“Over the next 40 years, we are going to see a dramatic drop in the percentage of working-age adults across the world. …. more people with fewer social security dollars competing for services, and fewer working people available to deliver those services to them… We will need robots to help us deal with this reality, doing the things we normally do for ourselves but that get harder to do as we get older.”
Final words of parting wisdom:
Before you dismiss this vision for a highly automated society, think about it the next time you put a load of laundry into your washing machine or hit the start button on the dishwasher as you head off to bed. These are tools that have automated unpleasant and time-consuming aspects of our lives, and given us more free time to pursue more productive or pleasurable activities.
Today most of us have great power and responsibility that we often take for granted: the power to choose how we spend our lives. As technological advances whittle away the availability of tedious employment, how will mankind respond?
Transitions are turbulent. But if the past is any indication of the future, humans will rise to the occasion.