Mind The Gap

03Jul07

Swedish professor Hans Rosling (bio) uses some pretty remarkable software to show us the links between economic development, poverty, mortality rates and a whole host of other development data. Now you may be thinking, “so what’s new?”. Well, the secret sauce here is that he presents the information to us in very surprising and utterly dramatic ways. You’ll just have to see it to know what I mean.

For anyone remotely interested in such issues, I highly recommend watching these two presentations from start to finish. If economics and social issues are not your cup of tea, give it a shot anyway. It just might amaze you.

First watch this, from the February 2006 TED conference.

And then this, from March, 2007.

For those of us in the global tea industry that depend largely on the productive capacity of India or China or (insert developing, tea-growing country here), the data really brings to life some of the ongoing challenges facing them. What is the relationship, for example, between average daily wage and GDP per capita? Or between a country’s child survival rate and its GDP? Will technology (like the $100 laptop or the Simputer) really have a lasting positive impact on people’s economic lives, as the trends seem to indicate?

There aren’t clear-cut answers here — just many more questions. But the real value of looking at data this way is is that it shows us how we can begin to use technology to understand our world better. And maybe, just maybe, improve it a little.

If you’re interested in the technology behind these presentations, Prof. Rosling uses statistical visualization software from a company he co-founded called Gapminder. It probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone that Google purchased Gapminder earlier this year.

For more intriguing videos from some very sharp minds, visit TED’s list of talks. Or demo Gapminder here.

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