Uncharted: Big Data as Lens on Human Culture

Erez Aiden & Jean-Baptiste Michel. Riverhead, $27.95 (256 pages) ISBN 978-1-59448-745-3
Aiden and Michel gained widespread media attention when they first demonstrated their innovative use of the Google Books project, which made available more than 30 million books in digitized form—about one in every four books published. This "big data" is at the core of this fascinating glimpse into the pair's decade-long work and how "[i]n the coming decades, personal, digital, and historical records are going to totally transform the way we think about ourselves and the world around us." Using a new scientific tool specially designed to be used with Google Books, the Ngram viewer, the pair were able to count words for "track[ing] certain kinds of cultural change over time" and to make "careful measurements that probe important aspects of our history, language, and culture." The result is like using a new kind of telescope that allows one to see more closely—and accurately—the evolution of words and how this reflects cultural change. A long appendix of charts provides a range of fascinating Ngram-based insights as well—such as the fact that the word "data" over the past hundred years has become more commonly used than the word "God." (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 03/31/2014
Release date: 12/01/2013
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-1-59463-290-7
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