L2′s annual Innovation Forum will be held on November 6 & 7 this year at the Morgan Library. The two day, TED style forum will feature experts speaking to a variety of innovations in digital marketing, commerce, and social media. Below we highlight one of our forum speakers, Rick Smolan, who will give a talk on “The Human Face of Big Data.”

As a photographer, explorer, and storyteller, Rick Smolan has long been interested in exploring culture through photography. He is the creator of the “Day in the Life” photo-book series, a best selling phenomenon that captured life around the world, and the force behind  “America 24/7,” the largest photographic event in US history. His company, Against All Odds Productions, leads large-scale, globally crowd-sourced projects that combine photography, journalism, and technology to tell stories on societal issues such as water supply, coming of age, and the effect of the Internet on civilization.

Smolan’s latest work puts human angles to “big data” — vast amounts of information that are gathered continuously by different sensors capturing data such as weather patterns, cell phone GPS signals, Internet search indexing, and purchase transactions just to name a few. By definition, big data is so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process — IBM estimates that 2.5 quintillion bytes are created a day — but Smolan seeks to connect and visualize the data into meaningful ways that can have very human implications. For example, in his research, Smolan shows how SMS system data can help prevent the sale of counterfeit medicines in Ghana or how credit card data can predict a divorce. These, and more stories, will be told through a multifaceted project including a data lab, worldwide speaking engagement, book release, and an upcoming documentary.

As part of the project, Smolan also launched a mobile app that allows users to experience big data firsthand. Through a system of collecting passive data (i.e. how many calls you make per day), user answered questions (i.e. how frequently do you remember your dreams), and user activities (i.e. a GPS map of where you have traveled to), the app provides a snapshot into the habits and beliefs of the user. It also allows users to compare their data with demographic subsets or all others in the database. Playing around in the app provides some interesting cultural insights. For example, more females 18-35 think that a good diet is more important to health than exercise whereas that ratio flips for males in the same age group. Ask the same question to females and males 36+ however, and both genders agree that proper diet is the most important. While the app is more of a fun tool, it does allow users to see some types of insights that can be garnered from big data. And of course the app puts a human face to it all — allowing users to see exactly who else out there they are most like — according to the data at least.

To register for the L2 Innovation Forum, click on the link below. Registration for brand and industry professionals is $5,000 and complimentary for L2 Members.

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