The Collective Experience of Empathic Data Systems

What is CEEDs?

CEEDs was a 48-month Integrated Project, part-funded by the EC’s 7th Framework Programme.  The project, which was coordinated by Dr Jonathan Freeman, combined basic science research, technology innovation and high impact user research methods to develop a virtual reality based system to improve humans’ abilities to process information, and experience and understand large, complex data sets.

OK… But what are the problems CEEDs is addressing?

There’s a long answer and a short answer.  Let’s try the short one. In a wide range of specialist areas – such as astronomy, neuroscience, archaeology, history and economics – experts need to make sense of and find meaning in very large and complex data sets.  Finding meaningful patterns in these large data sets is challenging.  By comparison, looking for a needle in a haystack could seem pretty simple!  Foraging for meaning in large data sets is a bottleneck that is becoming more challenging as scientific research creates and works with bigger and bigger data sets (the data deluge). And it’s not just scientists who are affected.  In everyday life, we are confronted by increasingly complex environments requiring difficult decisions and rapid responses; think of trying to get the shopping done at the supermarket in a rush.  CEEDS will provide new tools for ‘human-computer interaction’ that will assist our everyday decision making and information foraging.

OK, I can see the problem…. What about the solution?

CEEDS proposes a radical solution, based on integrating work in many scientific and technological areas.  The solution has two parts. First, we builded new synthetic reality (SR) systems that allow people to consciously experience properties of large data sets, dramatically extending current work in virtual reality which tends to enable experiences of simple environments such as offices, houses, or landscapes. Second, CEEDs exploits the power and potential of the unconscious mind.  It turns out that only a small subset of sensory input reaches conscious awareness, yet the remainder is still processed by the brain.  And this subconscious processing is very good at detecting novel patterns and salient (meaningful) signals. CEEDs plans to monitor signals of discovery or surprise in these subconscious processes, when users are experiencing innovative, artistic visualisations of large data sets.  And where it identifies such signals, CEEDs will use them to direct users to areas of potential interest in the visualisations.

How does CEEDs identify signals of surprise or discovery?

CEEDs uses a wide range of unobtrusive multi-modal wearable technologies to measure peope’s reactions to visualisations of large data sets in specially built virtual, or synthetic, reality environments.  CEEDs measures a range of variables, including users’: heart rate; skin conductance; eye gaze; and observable behaviours (such as where people point or reach to, or navigate towards). By monitoring these measures, CEEDs identifies users’ implicit (subconscious) responses to different features of visualisations of massive datasets.  The implicit responses are then used to guide users’ discovery of patterns and meaning within the datasets.