Today, intelligence gathering is like looking in a global ocean for an object that might or might not be a fish. It might be anything and it might be important, but at first, we are not sure it even exists. And whatever it might be is constantly moving and interacting with a huge number of other objects… It’s like going after the unknown unknowns, things we didn’t know we didn’t know. We used to know what we were looking for, and therefore were looking for things. Now we don’t know what we’re looking for and instead of looking for things, we’re looking for activities.
The script is collaged together from an article by Letitia A. Long, the director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and a Donald Rumsfeld–esque statement about the uncertainty of mining big data. As you listen to it, people of various ages, genders, and races float across the screen in organized lines, while a few individual interrupters navigate their own erratic paths. In brief vignettes such as this, the film visualizes the ocean of big data — the shorthand term for the “extremely large data sets that may be [and are] analysed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behaviour and interactions,” according to Oxford Dictionaries — through the use of human form and movement. In doing so, it asks:What, if anything, can be made of our intense reliance on technology to learn about the world around us and our place in it? What are we missing that we hadn’t even been looking for?
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