Cyberpunk meets UNDP

"Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts...A graphical representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the non-space of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding..." --William Gibson, Neuromancer
Wouldn't that be an amazing way to experience the data from the UNDP; the statistics of life and mortality, the tangents of development and disarray marked out as peaks and fjords that our avatars could fly through? The data, in fact, that Gapminder has visualised so vividly in 2D. So why not an engine that imports stats like those into Second Life, where they can be experienced in the way that William Gibson originally imagined? It seems like one step towards this is on the cards, judging by blog posts like 3D import tools for Second Life , although this still focuses on importing static 3D objects like buildings, cars and so on. Where are the pure data import tools?

And this begs the bigger question; why is Second Life a 3D representation of real-world objects at all? I know there are lots of reasons why this makes SL an interesting place with a lot of social potential. And it's actually the not-quite-real aspect that gives SL a lot of its buzz. But still, it's a virtual re-creation of our world, not the Gibsonian data-space.


Second Life is more like Neal Stephenson's Metaverse; an immersive virtual world populated by avatars. Which is cool, but it's not the Net. It doesn't help us visualise the data-space, the nodes and trails of information, including the trails that we leave and the giant repositories that bureaucracies build. Only today I was discussing with freedom of expression and privacy colleagues the urgent need to visualise these threats to online freedoms. I suspect that only when we can fly through an old skool Cyberspace will we get a keen insight in to the enroachment of censorship and corporate data-mining. Let's hope that, by then, it's not too late...

UPDATE: Gapminder and net censorship

Oops. It doesn't look like we're going to see Trendalyzer, the software behind Gapminder , used to visualise net censorship , as "Trendalyzer’s developers have left Gapminder to join Google in Mountain View". So that should make "the beauty of statistics" safe for Real-Time Revisionists.

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