The molecules of your body are the same molecules that make up the nebulae, that burn inside the stars themselves. We are star stuff.
We can all use a little more reason to come together these days, so let’s add to this.
Beyond rote burning, stars fuse atoms, creating the heavier elements – without them, we would live in a universe of hydrogen with a dash of helium. Atoms in your body like calcium and carbon and oxygen (all those larger that the smallest atoms, H and He) are only created in stars.
And even farther: elements heavier than iron are too large to be made by nuclear fusion as occurs in the core of a large star. They’re only made when a star reaches the end of its life and explodes into a supernova, a galactic blast of so much concentrated energy and heat that it creates the rest of the heavier elements in the periodic table.
They then float around in nebular clouds for billions of years, eventually condensing to form new stars, with little planets orbiting them. Some of those planets are rich in water and are juuuust the right distance away from the sun. Some also have metal cores that make magnetic fields that conveniently deflect incoming solar wind, which would otherwise sweep away an atmosphere. An atmosphere like the one we have on Earth, that over time formed a bubble within which turbulent volcanic eruptions finally subsided, giving rise to a stable climate where complicated configurations of stardust atoms formed into molecules like amino acids and RNA and lipid bilayers and eventually…
You! You evolved from the largest explosions in the universe.
From a cacophony, the elegant complexity of life, and eventually humanity, emerges. Damn wonderful.
PS: “On average, a supernova will occur about once every 50 years in our galaxy, the Milky Way.” – NASA says. Our sun is one of ~100 billion stars in it.
It’s politics season in America. This one is particularly bad. I’ll leave off lamenting our lack of endearing candidates and endeavor to destabilize a bit of the unbridled pessimism that springs forth when two opposing political parties turn a nation into their battleground of divisive plays for power.
The 50 states of America unite not just to advance America but to continuously improve our world at large. As one of the most powerful nations in this world, our responsibility and duty rests first and foremost in the livelihood, intelligence, and worldliness of our populace. That is to say, not just an understanding of the present. We must have the wisdom to look beyond our borders and deeper into history. A broader perspective on time reveals that things may not be as they initially seem.
While the percentage of US citizens holding a passport is growing, it’s still only about 100M Americans. That 1/3 of the county leaves 66% of Americans unable to legally travel outside USA. It’s therefore no wonder that our news is overly nationalistic and tends to lack a cohesive worldview. Let’s take a crack at breaking that trend whilst instilling a healthy dose of rational optimism toward humanity’s shared global future.
The world is much better than it has ever been, as evidenced by the following economic data visualized by Max Roser at University of Oxford.
First, let’s all rejoice that pretty much everyone is living longer. Life expectancy has doubled from 1800 to 2001.
Play around with this graph to explore changes in life expectancy of countries:
Longer life expectancy may not mean much if quality of life is not also improved. Luckily, nearly every metric is ascending.
Fewer than 10% of people on the planet now live in absolute poverty. We’re not talking about losing a car to a debt collector. We’re talking about raw destitution.
Absolute poverty is defined by the United Nations as “a condition characterised by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. It depends not only on income but also on access to services.” In 1900, 80% of the world’s population lived in absolute poverty.
Just look at these changes in GDP per capita over the past few hundred years! Here it’s shown in purchasing power of the 1990 USD.
Hit play below to watch the world grow wealthier. Hover to see exact GDP per capita and click any country to see a time series of the same change over the past several decades.
Global income distribution is also on the rise. In the late 1990s, the world was clearly divided between rich and poor. Despite the growing wealth inequality problem in America, the global distinction is much less pronounced as wealth creeps ever higher and more evenly distributed.
And what are we doing with this newfound wealth?
We’re educating everyone.
And distributing nutrition.
We’ve innovated tremendously in commodity production, such that most people can afford food,
which if you live in a developed nation and want to turn on a lightbulb, is trending toward free.
Electricity even packs exponentially more punch per kwh.
Sure, you may say, we have more. But we’re working more for it. Actually..
100 years is not so long ago that we should accept forgetting it. The web is full of posts lamenting the hours in an average workweek and sure, I’m among those who often work passionately for well over 40 hours a week. Yet if we consult historical data, people – including Americans – work on average nearly 20 hours less per week now than the did in the year 1900.
The path to prosperity for many people living during the turn of the twentieth century was a production job in one of numerous new industrial facilities. From farm field to factory meant a steady stream of income. It also meant workers were at the liberty of corporations operating without present day workers’ rights laws. Today’s legal protection is influenced largely by violent labor strikes involving militia that took place in the 1800s and 1900s. This war for the modern workweek claimed thousands of lives. For example, the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 left 100 dead in a fight against paycuts. The Bay View Massacre, a strike turned bloody, left seven dead in the quest for an eight hour work day. The list goes on and on.
But thanks in part to the sacrifices made by those workers, democracy began to spread across the globe…
About half of citizens around the world live in democratic conditions, compared to a mere 10% in 1901. The percentage of anocracies, unstable governments, has somewhat ironically remained steady. There are still far too many people living in autocracies; however, it is invigorating to see that the relative percentage is on the decline.
Globally, death by war is on the decline. And where it’s not, we’re drawing on clever algorithms to predict and hopefully prevent many of the would-be future deaths.
We have access to more resources by working fewer hours. Those resources are getting cheaper year by year. Ultimately, a better world means both better quality of life and deeper connections to one another.
These graphs by no means cover everything. Numerous foes of progress thrive; however, we stand to benefit by bearing in mind how far humanity has come since the Industrial Revolution.
As we ponder the future of America, it is important to consider her not in isolation but relative to the world at large and in the broader context of history. May these data catalyze productive conversations. In times of political dissonance, perhaps that’s what we need most.
Special thanks to Dave Ewalt for helping to edit this blog.
Ideas are curious things. You’re going along and suddenly… Boom! An idea. But it wasn’t really out of the blue, was it? Sure, something immediate may have sparked it. The spark came from somewhere. Where is that? How.. What is an idea? Configurations of neurons grow and represent realization..such vague explanation is saying Earth is a space rock. It is this. It’s immensely more.
Through language and emotion we navigate the world. We choose how to spend time, with whom to spend it. We choose which ideas are most interesting and seek out more. We read, browse, share. Videos, politics, religion, business, creativity.. our modern world is full of inspiration for those who explore. The idea I’ve been most interested in exploring is categorical: pondering how it is that ideas come about in the first place. Along this intellectual journey, I encounter a great breath of people, perspectives, and experiences. Playfully I explore the world of minds in order to create a perspective that is uniquely this self, this Amy.
In an effort to explore a bit of how I became myself, I’ve developed a side project over the past few years: mapping ideas. This post and accompanying a lecture at Stanford summarize the why.
Let this focus on the next step: sharing.
I write frequently. Between 2008 and June, 2016, I have filled up over 40 Moleskine Notebooks. Words, musings, aphorisms, speech outlines, sketches.. these notebooks are not mere writing, if there is such a thing. They are the evolution of the ideas I hold dear. The ideas I think have played the lead roles in my becoming who I am today.
Analyzing language for things like sentiment and keywords has for many years been possible thanks to platforms like AlchemyAPI from IBM. There is still a missing puzzle piece: a tool that automatically transcribes images of notebook pages into text files. Several tools exist but none so far have worked for me. I realize that Evernote makes writing searchable. It does not allow you to export text files.
Anyone out there interested in computer vision tools that turn writing to .txt? I would love to team up with you. Not just to make the next step in mapping ideas but to create an open source tool that anyone who writes can use to transform handwriting into a digital database.
I’m @amyleesterling on GitHub and Twitter. I’m still of course ever-searching for deeper understanding of who I am and perpetually welcome conversations with those of you on similar journeys. Ping me if this is up your curiosity alley. These are my personal notes and currently I’m brave enough to share them with people who ask but not publicly on the web just yet 🙂
A few sample images of notes below illustrate content diversity and wackiness.
The three pound organ sitting behind your eyes is nothing short of extraordinary. Symphonic activity among billions of neurons gives rise to thoughts, feelings, and ultimately the perspective and personality that makes you, you. Your brain makes a remarkable journey over the course of a lifetime — from an infant unable to speak to a capable adult able to philosophize and implement great dreams.
Our brains have evolved a special affinity for storytelling. Through narrative we share experiences. Elegant linguistic and visual combinations teach lessons from the past and facilitate fantastically imagined futures. Stories connect us with friends and loved ones. In much the same way that technological revolutions like virtual and augmented reality are transfiguring how we tell stories, innovations in an entirely different field – neuroscience – are beginning to reveal how stories make their way into that most amazing source of self: the human brain.
Thanks to cutting edge artificial intelligence, nanoscale resolution imaging, seriously powerful computers, high resolution portable displays and unprecedented international collaboration, we teamed up with MIT Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces Group to create a never-before-possible interactive immersive neuroscience visualization that debuted at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival’s Games and Media Summit.
In Virtual Reality, visitors teleport into a foreign yet familiar world, exploring a new pathway of narrative: the electrophysical connections among neurons. This is BrainVR.
Venture into a freshly discovered circuit of cells responsible in part for the brain’s ability to perceive motion – the very ebb and flow of story itself – using HTC Vive. Participants are invited to play with virtual objects and are challenged to trigger specific neural circuits which send movement information to the brain. Explore a stunningly beautiful, cutting-edge ideascape while you enjoy wonder and awe for the intricate complexity and nearly immeasurable wonder of the brain.
In 2014, we created Neurons in Space, a virtual reality experience that debuted at the TED Conference. This first VR ever shown at TED was a huge hit and catalyzed an ongoing side project at Eyewire: visualizing the brain in ever more immersive experiences. BrainVR is the latest iteration in an ongoing quest to immerse participants in the brain:
The combined efforts of hundreds of thousands of gamers have resulted in nanoscale resolution 3D models of neurons and their associated circuitry. These models serve as the basis for BrainVR. Learn more at Eyewire.org.
I had a fantastic time creating and sharing this experience at Tribeca. Tremendously excited to continue taking it forward. Ping me if you’re interested in collaborating! Huge shoutout to the team: Alex Norton, Daniel Citron, Scott Greenwald, Max Rose, and Julian Samal who created the sound.
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.
I found five dirhams while cleaning a bag and midway through putting them away, I dropped one, then suddenly wondered how it would look to drop a coin in slow motion. Why not, I opened Slow-Mo camera on iPhone and started filming. For 20 someodd seconds I first rolled and jostled then tossed five Arabian coins in my hand. When I watched the footage, I was amazed. Not by how the coins looked but by how they sound!
They sound of giant rolling metal disks and porcelain plates jostling together and great bells ringing. And if one is dropped… its path is heard streaking through the air. A great distant “boooom” echoes as it hits the ground and slowly rings to stillness. Delightfully surprised, I thought to share. Why do you think they sound like this?
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.
“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.
“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.”