Big Bang Data

The Big Bang Data exhibition at Somerset House is both pedagogic and an art show. I went twice.

Highlights include:

thingful, a search engine and geographic display of the internet of things. The whacky world of open data. Some things available are genuinely useful (eg DEFRA air quality monitoring stations, river level gauges, weather stations). Like other search engines, this is not an API to the sites it finds, but it does tell you what is available and where to find it.

Tekja’s London Data Streams is “powered by Websocket and REST APIs connecting to Twitter, Instagram and TFL live data feeds.” This simply displays a continuously scrolling feed of data in raw text format. Below is a selfie.


Face to Facebook, by Paolo Cirio and Alessandro Ludovico, says it is “Stealing 1 million Facebook profiles, filtering them with face-recognition software, and then, posting them on a custom-made dating website, sorted by their facial expressions characteristics.” “Through special custom software we collected data from more than 1,000,000 Facebook users. What we collected is their “public data” – some of their personal data (name, country, Facebook groups they subscribe to) plus their main profile picture and a few friend relationships. “” we studied and customized a face recognition algorithm. The algorithm used self learning neural networks and was programmed to “group” the huge amount of faces we collected (and their attached data) in a few simple categories. The categories are among the most popular that we usually use to define a person at a distance, without knowing him/her, or judging based only on a few behaviors. We picked six categories (“climber”, “easy going”, “funny”, “mild”, “sly” and “smug” – working definitions)” “The project talks about the consequences of posting sensitive personal data on social network platforms, and especially the consequences in real life. These consequences are always underestimated because we still instinctively tend to confine what we do online in the visual space of the screen. Face-to-facebook practically questions online privacy through one of the web’s most iconic platforms. And as with GWEI and Amazon Noir we’re not just making a sophisticated critical action against another giant online corporation, but we are also trying to formulate a simple hack that everybody can potentially use. Everybody can steal personal data and re-contextualize it in a completely unexpected context.

This is quite similar to Selfie City London by Lev Manovich and Moritz Stefaner.

Open Corporates is a database of corporate information from all over the world, claiming to index 98,788,988 corporates and delivering quite a lot of data about each. It offers a simple API.

I know where your cat lives, by Owen Mundy, uses publicly available data to track cats. “I Know Where Your Cat Lives is a data experiment that visualizes a sample of 1 million public pics of cats on a world map, locating them by the latitude and longitude coordinates embedded in their metadata. The cats were accessed via publicly available APIs provided by popular photo sharing websites. ”

Nicholas Felton uses graphics to produce corporate style reports about his own life.

Face Cages mimics the scanning patterns of facial recognition software to produce 3D masks.


Some exhibits focussed on the physicality of the internet, eg:
– a Submarine Cable Map by Telegeography, which is just what its name implies.

– a vdieo by Timo Arnall of a server centre in Spain, which shows not only how eerily empty of humans it is, but also how large, given the size of the HVAC and power supply stacks.

– displays of cable and storage technologies, including 5.25 inch floppies (which I once used…) all the way up to USB sticks and human DNA.


Thanks to Dr Mark Cote, who runs the Digital Culture courses at Kings, I went to a seminar which was part of the ‘Digital Big Bang’ exhibition at Somerset House. (SH is next door to Kings, and clearly Kings had played a major role in setting the exhibition up.)

The seminar was by Salvatore Iaconesi and Oriana Persico, an Italian couple who run and who look firstly at the huge amounts of data that are now being generated, and secondly at how this is, and could be, used – in particular about how it can be made available to the people who generated it, instead of being squirreled away on some corporate or governmental control room. Hence their Persona Non Data installation at the exhibition. (see ). At the seminar, apart from some very interesting Cybersyn history, they also demonstrated the use of Processing and OpenCV to scan video for faces etc. Riveting: I sat for three hours on a vry uncomfortable backless stool, but hardly noticed the discomfort.

I mentioned Face to Facebbok above. Two other projects by are not shown in the exhibition but seem interesting. From Perifericbiennial:

– Amazon Noir is another project by the artist/hacktivist team, which exploiting a trivial element of the website. You can search for any phrase in any of the books which the site offers for sale and you will get a short, 50 word quotation from the book. Ubermorgen started the process, as they searched for the first few words of any book, then used an algorithm to copy the last sentence and search for it again. Then sentence by sentence, entire books was reconstructed by the automatic algorithm in a matter of moments….Eventually, Amazon overcame of the hidden gate the hackers were using and stoped their activity, but never the less, Ubermorgen showed us a glimpse on the real concept of free library. ” nb periferic ended in 2008?

We generate money by serving Google text advertisments on a network of hidden Websites. With this money we automatically buy Google shares. We buy Google via their own advertisment! Google eats itself – but in the end “we” own it!
By establishing this autocannibalistic model we deconstruct the new global advertisment mechanisms by rendering them into a surreal click-based economic model.

See Uebermorgen’s manifesto.

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