Decision making in science, industry, and politics, as well as in daily life, requires that we make sense of data sets representing the structure and dynamics of complex systems. Analysis, navigation, and management of these continuously evolving data sets require a new kind of data-analysis and visualization tool we call a macroscope (from the Greek macros, or “great,” and skopein, or “to observe”) inspired by de Rosnay’s futurist science writings.
Just as the microscope made it possible for the naked human eye to see cells, microbes, and viruses, thereby advancing biology and medicine, and just as the telescope opened the human mind to the immensity of the cosmos and the conquest of space—the macroscope promises to help make sense of yet another dimension—the infinitely complex. Macroscopes provide a “vision of the whole,” helping us “synthesize” the related elements and detect patterns, trends, and outliers while granting access to myriad details. Rather than make things larger or smaller, macroscopes let us observe what is at once too great, slow, or complex for the human eye and mind to notice and comprehend.
Many of the best micro-, tele-, and macroscopes are designed by scientists keen to observe and comprehend what no one has seen or understood before. Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) recognized the potential of a spyglass for the study of the heavens, ground and polished his own lenses, and used the improved optical instruments to make discoveries like the moons of Jupiter, providing quantitative evidence for the Copernican theory. Today, scientists repurpose, extend, and invent new hardware and software to create macroscopes that may solve both local and global challenges.
My aim here is to inspire computer scientists to implement software frameworks that empower domain scientists to assemble their own continuously evolving macroscopes, adding and upgrading existing (and removing obsolete) plug-ins to arrive at a set that is truly relevant for their work—with little or no help from computer scientists.
Katy Börner on Plug-and-Play Macroscopes | March 2011 | ACM