By Tiffany Fox, (858) 246-0353, email@example.com
San Diego, Calif., Oct. 28, 2009 — On a mission to make "data more digestible," members of the DiamondExchange — a senior executive program that helps business leaders leverage technology for competitive advantage — visited the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) at the University of California, San Diego, earlier this month to tour the institute's world-class data visualization and telepresence techniques.
Sponsored by the global consulting firm Diamond Management & Technology Consultants, Inc., the DiamondExchange is limited to general managers and other top officers of large-scale, growth oriented companies. Membership is by invitation only. Since its founding 13 years ago, the Diamond Exchange has attracted senior executives from a number of leading companies, including America Online, Coca-Cola Enterprises, Hewlett-Packard, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, McDonalds, Microsoft and Pfizer.
"It is a great opportunity to demonstrate our innovative technologies to these high level thought leaders," said Ramesh Rao, division director of Calit2 at UC San Diego.
About 40 members of the group toured the institute's facilities at Atkinson Hall, including a look at the state-of-the-art technologies developed over the summer in Calit2's Virtulab. Among those technologies is NexCAVE, a projector-free visualization display made from flat-panel LCD screens that enables users to visualize massive datasets in stereo, at unprecedented speeds and at a level of detail impossible to obtain on the limited "pixel real estate" of a desktop PC display.
"The NexCAVE brings LCD panel tiled displays into the domain of 3D virtual reality, making tens-of-megapixel immersive viewing available for the first time in an office/laboratory-sized footprint," said Calit2 Research Scientist Tom DeFanti, who led the effort to design and develop the NexCAVE. "The cost of the NexCAVE is a fraction of VR projection systems (like Calit2's StarCAVE), an added bonus, and it is 100% compatible with our application-enabling visualization software."
Also on the agenda was a stop at the StarCAVE, where the visitors donned stereoscopic glasses to take in 3-D visualizations of UC San Diego's Project GreenLight energy efficient data center. Data obtained from a Calit2-supported hunt for the tomb of Genghis Khan was displayed on the HIPerSpace Wall, which features nearly 287 million pixels of screen resolution — more than one active pixel for every U.S. citizen in the 2000 Census. In Calit2's 4K auditorium, DiamondExchange members were able to virtually "walk through" multiple wavelength scans of a painting by Leonardo da Vinci using a technique developed by researchers at Calit2's Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture and Archaeology (CISA3).
The tour culminated in a panel discussion featuring four Calit2-affiliated researchers: Jules Jaffe (an oceanographer with UCSD's Marine Physical Laboratory), Falko Kuester (Calit2 professor of visualization and virtual reality), Albert Lin (Calit2 research scientist) and Jürgen Schulze (Calit2 project scientist). A number of DiamondExchange members asked questions from the audience, including Dan Bricklin of Software Garden, a software company based in Newton, Mass. Bricklin was curious about the steps the researchers on the panel are taking to "bring the user interface out and make it less opaque."
Kuester noted that researchers at CISA3 are developing data manipulation techniques such as direct mapping and visual/physical zoom in an effort to "spatialize the environment" so that there is less of a physical barrier between the user and the data.
Dan Ariely, the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Behavioral Economics at Duke University, asked how the researchers mitigate any unconscious assumptions they might make when making the transition from raw data to data visualization.
"It happens sometimes that algorithms can be wrong and artifacts slip in (to the data)," acknowledged Schulze. "But as scientists, we always go back to the original data to confirm the results."
Lin noted that visualization becomes even more complicated with projects like his, which will recruit untrained Web users to scan satellite imagery of Mongolia's outlying regions in an effort to try to pinpoint the lost tomb of Genghis Khan. This combination of data mining, human computation and social networking is a new realm of exploration for Calit2, and Kuester noted that with it comes "the huge risk of visually biased data."
"We simply do not know what we're looking for in many cases," he added. "The tricky part is understanding how reasoning works when you are processing information."
Tiffany Fox, (858) 246-0353, firstname.lastname@example.org