Pick Of The Week: Big Data, World Economic Forum

Blake Harris 01.27.2016

Last week, many of the world’s political and business leaders met in Davos, Switzerland for the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) conference. The official theme of this year’s meeting was “mastering the fourth industrial revolution,” which entailed looking at technical innovations—from artificial intelligence to virtual reality—and talking about how these things will change the way we live and work in the future.

If you’re wondering why high-level executives saw fit to dedicate a week to discussing matters such as these, this quote from Pierre Nanterme (CEO of Accenture) provides some insight into the potential business impact of cutting-edge technology:

“Digital is the main reason just over half of the companies on the Fortune 500 have disappeared since the year 2000.”

To help explain some of these hard-to-visualize, even-harder-to-internalize technological topics, a Chilean animation studio called Smog was hired to produce a series of animated demos on the following topics:

Although we greatly enjoyed each of these videos, our favorite was Big Data for reasons we’ll describe below. But before we talk about the artistry of these animated demos, we wanted to first highlight a few of the jaw-dropping points made in the video itself:

  • In less than 10 years, CPUs are expected to reach the processing power of the human brain
  • There is a good chance that in 15 years most current jobs will be performed by computers
  • According to a survey conducted by the Global Agenda Council of the Future of Software and Society, people expect that artificial intelligence machines will be part of a company’s Board of Directors by 2026

For reasons like those points above, technology is something that no businessman can ignore going forward. Which is part of the reason why we selected Smog’s Big Data as our PICK OF THE WEEK. Here’s the full video:

WEF: Big Data from SMOG.tv on Vimeo.

3 Things We Loved About This Animated Demo

1. Thinking Globally: As we mentioned at the top, the audience for this conference (and this video) was composed of leaders from around the world. So immediately Smog was faced with a challenge: making this video accessible to a global audience.

Achieving that objective may seem more logistical than artistic but, upon further review, it’s actually a rather even balance of both. For example: as every viewer will notice, a text version of the audio narration appears below the animation. That much is obvious, but less apparent is how this text never teeters upon distraction. How do they pull this off?

One clever thing they do is use a text bar that boxes in the words. This may seem like a little thing, but as anyone who’s ever done karaoke knows there’s a strange anxiety that comes from not knowing exactly where the words will appear next.

Also, intelligently, the color of each text bar is chosen to best compliment and seamlessly integrate with the illustration above. Like this:

text 1text 2

In addition to using text as an asset to help reach a global audience, Big Data also wisely opts for more of a motion graphic motif over character animation.

mograph1mograph 2

And when characters are introduced (which does, admittedly, happen quite a bit) they are crafted in such a way that appears mildly specifically but still regionally vague.

Character Design 2character design 1

2. Use of Space to Depict Process: As with live-action storytelling, most scenes in an animated narrative begin with all the important elements in place and are then set into motion. This is great for linear, character-driven storytelling, but as we discussed above that’s not what this video is trying to accomplish. Instead, it relies on animated elements to provide a “face” for faceless technologies. As such, the objective here is to depict those technologies in a relatable human way, while still presenting them in some fashion that feels authentic to how it might feel to experience them. And that’s where the great use of space really comes into play.

Many of the scenes in Big Data begin familiar enough. With, say, a simple Google search:

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But from there, these familiar scenes build out and make great use of the space around them to demonstrate how all of these individual elements taken together can–via machine learning–become something greater than the sum of their parts.

Take that Google search and throw in your passport and a recent online purchase:

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 4.25.41 PMScreen Shot 2016-01-27 at 4.25.42 PM

Expand that out with more and more catalogued digital data:

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Add that all up and what do you get?

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 4.25.52 PM

A consumer profile that can be analyzed and monetized.

3. A Future Neither Utopian nor Dystopian: With transparency that results from “big data,” there comes too a long list of pros and cons. Beyond the ability for businesses to try and monetize this information, there are also legitimate concerns about privacy, safety and larger ethical questions. Instead of shying away from those subjects, the video wisely acknowledges them and tries to use those questions/concerns as a means to spur the call to action.

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 5.01.21 PMScreen Shot 2016-01-27 at 5.01.24 PM

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Raising these questions (even if they are not answered) is one reason why the video comes across as fair and balanced, but it’s important to note that the video as a whole does a great job of straddling that line. Given questions like these, and the role that it seems computers and big data will play in the years ahead, it would have likely been easier for the filmmakers to present the future as either promising or menacing.

If this video were meant to persuade it is likely that such a decision wold have been made but this video is meant to explain–it’s an explainer video, after all–so it’s impressive to see how Smog finely deploys the information without veering towards judgment. It feels more factual in that respect which, ultimately, builds audience trust. Something that we can all learn from, as that’s an objective that just about every explainer aims to accomplish.

Blake Harris

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