University of Calgary

Empowering us in the information age

UToday HomeJanuary 9, 2013

On Jan. 18, Sheelagh Carpendale will kick off the public winter lecture series, Eyes High on Research – Winter 2013. Photo by Riley BrandtOn Jan. 18, Sheelagh Carpendale will kick off the public winter lecture series, Eyes High on Research – Winter 2013. Photo by Riley BrandtSheelagh Carpendale started working in information visualization and visual analytics to help scientists make sense of their data, but more and more she sees the need to help us all have access to, and better understanding of the masses of data available in the information age.

“We’ve been spending the last 30 years getting really good at putting data into computers and amassing it and having masses and masses of it, so that now everywhere you turn people are talking about big data and big data problems,” says Carpendale. “But there has been comparatively little research on making this data useful and useable by humans.”

Carpendale, the holder of the E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship, NSERC/AITF/SMART Industrial Research Chair in Interactive Technologies, NSERC Canada Research Chair in Information Visualization and a computer science professor in the Faculty of Science, will talk about her work on Jan. 18 as the first speaker in the winter lecture series sponsored by the office of the advisor to the president on women’s issues.

“We all live in this information age and we all know that all kinds of people are collecting masses of information about us but we don’t really have the power or even the access to it,” says Carpendale. “Even if you get it you will get megabytes of numbers and it’s not necessarily going to mean anything to you.”

Carpendale says information visualization can help people be empowered by all the data, instead of marginalized or enslaved by it. “In the world of information and data, we’ve slipped back to the dark ages. We now have data barons and data serfs.”

Your cell phone, for example, provides your cell phone carrier with a plethora of information. “Where you are and who you call and when you call them and the length and whether it’s texts or email or phone and sometimes even the content, and that’s really who you are,” says Carpendale.

Adrienne Kertzer, the advisor to the president on women’s issues, says Carpendale is a great candidate to kick off the winter lecture series that showcases some of the research that will help the university meet the Eyes High goal of becoming one of Canada's top five research universities by 2016.

“Sheelagh is someone who is highly regarded both inside and outside the university; when I was planning the series, I immediately thought of her,” says Kertzer.

For more information and to register for the public lectures, visit Eyes High on Research – Winter 2013.