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October 24, 2012

Mission Control: Recap

On October 2nd, Rick Smolan stood before a large audience in Manhattan's own Chelsea Market, and boldly stated that: "Big Data will have a bigger effect on humanity than the internet."

These were the words that kicked off Mission Control, the climactic event intended to discuss the latest advances in Big Data. Rick's words sent a wave of excitement over the venue, which was aptly decorated in neon-lights, stunning photographs, and glowing monitors that displayed mind-blowing facts about Big Data and the world as we know it.

For the next hour and a half, we witnessed presentations from an impressive lineup of tech and media figures, including: Juan Enriquez, Sheldon Gilbert, Carlos Dominguez, Esther Dyson, Aaron Koblin, Paul Sagan, Jer Thorp, and Scott Harrison.

"We can either get crushed by its weight or take this opportunity to unlock its potential," said Paul Sagan of Akamai, when referring to the power of Big Data. The crowd was then presented with a new data visualization system that shows where data is being created around the globe. This system is being used to pinpoint malicious IP addresses on digital maps, thus allowing the prevention of destructive data hacks.

Jer Thorp of the New York Times presented an extraordinary visualization of airplanes landing and taking off from airports around the world. "This is one of our most clear experiences of living in a world where we can't understand a system because it's too big," Thorp explained. He then introduced the audience to a project of his, Just Landed, which collects information about how people are traveling from their Tweets and cellphone activity. Just Landed is being used to map patterns that offer new insight on the process of human mobility.

The final presentation of the event was given by the founder of charity: water, Scott Harrison. Scott noted that every $1 invested in improved water and sanitation equates to $12 in economic returns. He posed a problem explaining that: "People don't want to give to charity because there's a black hole, so we wanted to use data to show people the impact of their money." charity: water's solution to fill this black hole was to implement GPS systems on their wells in order to allow funders to witness how wells are drilled and function over time.

Over a dozen prominent companies set up "data pods" at Mission Control to share the advancements they're making, thanks to Big Data. Weatherbug demonstrated how they are using satellites to track thunderstorms paths earlier than ever before. MLB presented its process of analyzing the performance of baseball pitchers using sensors that track pitches. Bluefin Labs demonstrated its process for measuring how influential individuals are in the social media space by compiling their conversations and analyzing their overall reach. These are just a few examples from more than a dozen companies that came out to share their Big Data stories at Mission Control.

In addition to all of the amazing presentations, the world was able to view some awesome data visualizations from the app. Some of the early data collected from the app revealed thought-provoking results. We've discovered that people who get their news from the TV are more likely to believe in an afterlife than people who get their news from computers. We also found that couples who are cohabiting are less likely to want to change anything about their partners than couples who are married.

Visit our official Facebook Page for more photos from Mission Control NYC and the app. In case you missed the live-stream, you can watch it here, and we'll be releasing individual videos of each speaker in the coming weeks.

Mission Control was only the beginning. We're collecting data from smartphone users all around the world, through November 20th. Want to help us measure our world? Download the app for Android or iOS today!


Big Data ends where it begins — with people — when those numbers, generated by all of us, improve all our lives. The Human Face of Big Data tells the story of that circle, and your role in it. Big data is detecting earthquakes in tsunami-prone Japan, keeping traffic flowing on America's highways, foiling counterfeit pharmaceuticals, battling mosquitoes from outer space, and providing citizens in the developing world with much-needed identity documents. Explore examples and uncover all the ways Big Data is impacting our world.

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