Can You Say Water…

Deb Roys 3d Social Map

Well Deb Roys son does and you could say it all started with just a gaga and no “lady” is involved, well maybe not totally true as there was his mother, nanny, grandmother but you get the idea.  Well you see Deb Roy has the mother of all home video systems, as a matter of fact everything he does in his home is videotaped and sent to a large server farm in his basement.  From here every word said is digitized and matched to the location it was said in the home as well as the interactions of participants in the house.

What was Deb Roy hoping to achieve with all this kit stored away and 200 terabytes of compressed video files of his family’s every action?  Simple, he wanted to capture a birth  and not just an ordinary “birth” as this is a special one and happens to each of us in our life and only once.  The moment Deb was seeking is that of his son’s first word, in this case it was “water”.

What’s the big deal you ask, kids learn to speak every day and have done so for thousands of years in some shape fashion or form.  However here it is 2011 and we have put a man on the moon, yet a child’s first words are still a mystery and this is what Deb Roy a professor at the MIT Media lab set out to discover in this multiyear experiment.  As language is the most fundamental skill we as humans develop as it’s our sole means of connecting with others in our species as in order to transfer ideas and concepts one must possess a functionally common lexicon from which to accept and convey ideas.

Well to cut to the chase a bit, what Deb found here was very interesting about how his son learned to vocalize and associate the word “water”, however that’s not the point of this post.  It’s the next thing Deb found which was far more interesting to me is he took these “models” he and his staff had discovered in seeking his son’s first words and turned them towards the media.  He wanted to see what the world was saying and using the same methods of computer modeling he was able to paint an amazing picture.

To do this, his team took satellite TV transmissions from hundreds of channels and fed them into a parallel massive computer system to decode them and what he found is it was possible to “link” conversations.  In as such the happenings on “American Idol” would spawn many sub conversations and they created very powerful causal loops.  In turn these loops would drive further discussions and so on to the point where he then took “social feeds” (assumed since it was not spelled out) from Twitter ™ and Facebook ™ which linked to actual people and the “social map” which this produced was amazing.

To me this is both amazing and scary because it shows that “key” messages placed at the right spot in the “social map” can and will spread like wild fire and disruption in the map itself by say the death of say an influential individual(s) can have serious repercussions in the flow of concepts.  To me this is the equivalent of the human genome project, however this time it is the “social genome”…

Note: To check out Deb Roys work, go to

About Joseph Campbell

As a strong believer in the fact that "people work for people", it has been a life driver to better to understand the complexities of the various aspects which drive efficiency within this axiom, especially the concepts of leadership. Supporting this, I have been fortunate enough to having experienced this as leader on a global basis over the last decade and half. During this time it has been clear there are three core drivers being Life, Leadership and Economics.
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