"Data Visualization is a Halfway House"

I've said this several times over the years.  Mike Driscoll just wrote a blog post reflecting on this thought.  

Mike captured the intent of my quote quite well, but I want to add a bit more context.

Right now, we have data visualization apps that are expected to serve consumers.  We look at crime maps, at various news infographics, at interfaces that help us to understand data.  But if you think about the arc of data services like maps, and follow the path from the paper map through interactive services like Google Maps giving you maps and directions on your phone, through turn by turn navigation all the way to the Google self-driving car, you can see how eventually the information is submerged into the service.  The car just gets you where you want to go.  The visualization is a kind of checkpoint perhaps, but the human decision maker is not in the actual processing loop.

Applying this idea to business-oriented visualization, you can see how, as Mike points out, machine learning algorithms eventually are trained to do the right thing.  At this point, visualization is a bit like debugging - a way for humans to get insight into the operation of the algorithm.  It's most useful during development, and less useful once the algorithm has been perfected.

There's an interesting gray area.  This model assumes that an area is adequately captured by an algorithm.  There will be many areas where visualization interfaces enable exception handling.  But more and more, expect services that used to require you to look at a screen and make a decision to just make that decision for you.

(In that regard, see my post on Square and Uber:  Software Above the Level of a Single Device.  http://radar.oreilly.com/2012/11/square-wallet-the-apple-store-and-uber-software-above-the-level-of-a-single-device.html )

There's a great deal of interesting work yet to be done on the proper role of visualization in man-machine interfaces; but one thing is clear, we need fresh thinking about just where the algorithm ends and the human interface begins. 
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