Friday, February 19, 2010

Information is Power

TEDsters were joined this year by TED Associates in 75 countries watching a live stream of the conference. We were treated to a surprise talk by David Cameron streamed live from the London associate event. It was fitting to have this talk immediately after Kahneman because Cameron, like Obama, has sought policy input from behavioural economists.Cameron (click here to see his talk online) focused on the challenge of improving society without spending more money. He argued that the way to improve wellbeing was to give power to the people. And the formula for devolving that power was through transparency, choice and accountability, including making lots of data available online. Free access to information allows people to turn it into information.

We heard of this theme of open information from Tim Berners-Lee last year at TED when he talked to us about a new age for the Web, when numerical data would be linked the way text has been. When you have the raw data, you can freely manipulate it and integrate different data sets to elucidate relationships.

Berners-Lee discussed an example of just how quickly this can happen - just two days after the UK Department of Transport published data on the locations of bicycle accidents in Britain, The Times had published an interactive zoomable map showing the locations.

The US and the UK have already started to publish such data, in the interests of open government, and many have hopes for improved political accountability through these efforts.

Berners Lee closed with a stunning time-lapse of Open Street Map's map of Port au Prince. provides a completely open source world map, where users can update and enrich data, just like in Wikipedia. Before the disaster, there was paltry information on Port auPrince, but volunteers fleshed out the map very quickly. Note the locations of the symbols for the encampments for the homeless on the map below.

No comments: