What is CEEDs?
A new European Commission FP7 funded project combining basic science research, technology innovation and high impact user research methods to develop a virtual reality based system to improve humans’ abilities to process information, and experience and understand large, complex data sets.
OK… But what are the problems the project is addressing?
There’s a long answer and a short answer. Let’s try the short one…
In a wide range of specialist areas – such as astronomy, neuroscience, archaeology, history and economics – experts need to make sense of and find meaning in very large and complex data sets. Finding meaningful patterns in these large data sets is challenging. By comparison, looking for a needle in a haystack could seem pretty simple! Foraging for meaning in large data sets is a bottleneck that is becoming more challenging as scientific research creates and works with bigger and bigger data sets (the data deluge).
And it’s not just scientists who are affected. In everyday life, we are confronted by increasingly complex environments requiring difficult decisions and rapid responses; think of trying to get the shopping done at the supermarket in a rush. CEEDS will provide new tools for ‘human-computer interaction’ that will assist our everyday decision making and information foraging.
OK, I can see the problem…. What is CEEDs thinking the solution will be?
CEEDS is proposing a radical solution, based on integrating work in many scientific and technological areas. The solution has two parts.
First, we will build new synthetic reality (SR) systems that allow people to consciously experience properties of large data sets, dramatically extending current work in virtual reality which tends to enable experiences of simple environments such as offices, houses, or landscapes.
Second, we will exploit the power and potential of the unconscious mind. It turns out that only a small subset of sensory input reaches conscious awareness, yet the remainder is still processed by the brain. And this subconscious processing is very good at detecting novel patterns and salient (meaningful) signals.
CEEDs plans to monitor signals of discovery or surprise in these subconscious processes, when users are experiencing innovative, artistic visualisations of large data sets. And where it identifies such signals, CEEDs will use them to direct users to areas of potential interest in the visualisations.
How will CEEDs identify signals of surprise or discovery?
CEEDs will develop and use a wide range of unobtrusive multi-modal wearable technologies to measure peope’s reactions to visualisations of large data sets in specially built virtual, or synthetic, reality environments. CEEDs will measure a range of variables, including users’:
- heart rate;
- skin conductance;
- eye gaze;
- observable behaviours (such as where people point or reach to, or navigate towards);
- speech characteristics; and
- brain activity.
By monitoring these measures, CEEDs will identify users’ implicit (subconscious) responses to different features of visualisations of massive datasets. The implicit responses will then be used to guide users’ discovery of patterns and meaning within the datasets.
How will users be guided?
Whilst immersed in the project’s synthetic reality spaces (SRS), users will be able to explore complex data whilst following narrative structures which vary in complexity along key dimensions, for example over space and time.
So what’s collective about CEEDs?
Individuals’ pattern detection abilities will be augmented by linking multiple users together, creating a collective discovery system. Components of the CEEDs system will be integrated using approaches from the field of network robotics, creating a genuinely novel approach to massive distributed synthetic reality applications.
Will CEEDs make a practical difference?
CEEDs‘ effectiveness will be validated through studies involving stakeholders from science, history and design. The consortium envisages genuine benefits from the CEEDs system. Think, for example, of a young pupil using CEEDs being able to see complex patterns in an astronomy data set, patterns which without CEEDs would only be perceptible to an experienced professor. By unlocking the power of the subconscious, CEEDs will make fundamental contributions to human experience.
And theoretical advances?
On the theoretical level, CEEDs targets a novel integrated computational and empirical framework, merging the delivery of presence with the study of consciousness, its underlying sub-conscious factors and creativity. To do this, CEEDs will follow a multi-disciplinary approach that will significantly further the state of the art across science, engineering and the humanities. By bringing together a team of leading experts in psychology, computer science, engineering, mathematics, and other key disciplines, CEEDs will build the foundations for key developments in future confluent technologies – where the human user is an essential, integrated part of the system.
Who do I contact for more information?
CEEDs is a 48-month Integrated Project, part-funded by the EC’s 7th Framework Programme. The project has 16 partners, and is coordinated by Dr Jonathan Freeman, Department of Psychology, Goldsmiths. For more information, please contact Jonathan directly: J.Freeman@gold.ac.uk