Visualization of Data – Art Science Museum, Singapore

Mobile phone visualization
Visualization of mobile phone penetration rates

Recently I was lucky enough to be passing through Singapore, and dropped into the Art Science Museum near Marina Bay Sands to check out their new Big Bang of Data exhibition. The exhibition covers all aspects of the ‘explosion’ of data in recent decades, from the technology which powers it, to the new opportunities it creates, and the privacy and legal issues which arise from it. It could have been designed specifically for ITGS!

One of my favourite parts of the museum was the collection of visualizations, printed on stunning illuminated globes. Each globe covered a different aspect of the onward march of technology, from the global spread of IP addresses to the penetration of mobile phones.

IP address visualization
Global IP address visualization
Visualization of global fibre optic cables
Global fibre optic network visualization
Mobile phone visualization
Visualization of mobile phone penetration rates

The exhibition also features an excellent section on the technology behind the Internet, fitting in nicely with strand 3 of the ITGS syllabus. This includes examples of storage technologies from paper punch cards, through magnetic tapes and magnetic disks, to modern solid state storage. There is also a section of the technology which powers ‘the cloud’ – a really important addition which also discusses the environmental impacts of these technologies which many of us take for granted.

However, the centrepiece of this area is a floor-sized map depicting global Internet backbone connections. I’ve posted about online Internet backbone maps before, but this room-sized visualization really helped reinforce the concepts. Around the room were examples of different types of cables which have been used throughout the years – from telegraphic cables in the early part of the 20th century to modern fibre optic cables. Despite the changes in the technology, it is impressive to imagine that the Internet as we know it today is still largely composed of cables simply laid out across oceans.

Internet backbone map of Central America
Internet backbone map of Central America
Internet backbone map of South America
Internet backbone map of South America
Visualization of Internet backbone
Asian Internet backbone map
Visualization of African Internet backbone
Africa Internet backbone map

A final part of the Internet display addresses the reliability of the Internet – a result of its design philosophy – as well as the increasing number of faults that are occurring each year – and the impact they have. Once such example is the disruption caused by damage to the SEA-ME-WE 4 cable in 2012, which was accidentally cut by a ship.

The last few rooms of the Big Bang Data exhibition examine the social impacts of creating these vast volumes of data. The Internet Archive by Jonathan Minard discusses the risk of losing this data and the vast efforts that are undertaken to preserve our digital heritage. The film is, as you might expect, available for free on YouTube:

Another striking piece on display was Hello World! Or: How I Learned to Stop Listening and Love the Noise, by artist Christopher Baker. This video wall is composed of over 5000 YouTube clips, each taken from a person’s video diary and playing simultaneously. Definitely something to make you think.

Hello World by Christopher Baker
Hello World! art installation by Christopher Baker

One of the most unusual exhibits was right at the end: Face Cages by Zach Blas. Given improved facial recognition techniques and the potential for biometric scans to be carried out without an individual’s knowledge or consent, Face Cages are designed to foil such a scan by covering the areas of an individual’s face which would be most useful to biometric software. As Blas points out, the uncomfortable looking cages highlight the psychological discomfort and oppression caused by mass surveillance.

Face Cages by Zach Blas
Face Cages by Zach Blas

The Art Science Museum have a section of their website dedicated to the Big Bang Data exhibition, which explains several of the main exhibits in more detail. It also covers another exhibit of interest to ITGS and Computer Science students, Future World: Where Art Meets Science.

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