The Future of (everything) My TED story

Last week I heard a fascinating story about a project where conservation staff have developed a remote controlled microphone to record bird calls especially Kiwi in the wild.

What was really interesting to me about the story was how they wrote some software to scan all of the sounds and be able to more easily zoom in on the ones that were most important to them.

kiwi bird calls spectrogramsThe simple version is that the sounds get converted to Spectrograms which the computer programme can recognise the shape of. You can see a spectrogram at left and for more detail on that image look at  the orginal kiwi vocalisation data over here.

As you can see the patterns are very distinctive but when you have hours of data that is still going to take a while.

So to make it much easier they colour coded the spectrograms so that a person can review the data in a time shifted way – and at speed.

That means they converted an audio signal into a visual image and then used an image recognition algorithm in the software that they wrote which is what really excited me about the story.

Going from sound to visual image is the answer to all of those ” what do we do with all this data questions”.

Visual mapping allows us to get a kind of data compression which uncovers the most significant patterns in any kind of data.

In fact the more data points we have the easier and better we can see those patterns. You get the idea though. If we can turn a whole lot of data (big data) into a visual image we can flip it over and do a sort of like Eric Berlow showed in the clip from my blog post earlier this week.

BTW -if anyone has the audo link to that programme on Radio NZ Nat Radio about 18th May? – will add it here

Sean Gourley is one of the flying kiwis* I wrote about Sean back in 2009 as he was a TED fellow and is probably the only New Zealander to speak at a TED conference so far.

It was my very great pleasure to meet Sean in San Francisco in May 2010 and talk with him about what he was up to. The plan was to interview him for a magazine called idealog but after talking we both realised none of those conversations could be published due to commercial sensitivity.

So Sean really is a rocket scientist from Christchurch & a very smart guy changing the world of big data. Happy to say that is one of my TED stories and I love what he is doing over at

(* seriously why do we have a bird who can’t fly as a mascot -what is that about?)

It’s TEDxSydney this weekend and I’m in the theatre and so delighted to be part of the live show this year. If you are there / here my twitter id is @dialogCRM so come and say hi if you are around.

Especially looking forward to Chris Anderson, Anthony Burke, Tarsha Finney, Geoffrey Garret, Jeremy Heimans, Katie Noonan, Gerard Reinmuth. All the talks will be good and some will be great – ideas worth spreading. I’m expecting to be surprised by greatness and spending the day with a bunch of fire starters is also a wonderful thing.

TEDxSydney is being live (26th of May) streamed so tune in or follow along on twitter at #TEDxSydney.

Watch live streaming video from gigaombigdata at

So Sean is onto something very big ( sorry about the pun) watch the clip and it will blow your mind. Lets convert some of this data into a human readable format.

Watching Big Data: An Augmented Intelligence For Strategic Decision Making