Saturday, April 24, 2010

HIPerWall: Really Big Collaboration, Really Big!

Photo: Anne Helmond

I just learned about HIPerWall from John Sviokla's blog posting "It's Time to Reinvent Knowledge Work." You can access the blog here!.

The HIPerWall - or Highly Interactive Parallized Display Wall - is a spinoff from the University of California at Irvine (UCI, and is based on research and technology at UCI's California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2). Basically, the HIPerWall's software, enables a very large electronic canvas for creating very large video walls out of standard computer, monitors, and an Ethernet network. John didn't mention the wall itself, but a link in his blog took me to an article about two Calit2 affiliated professors (Steven G. Potkin and James H. Fallon) who were using a wall to help them identify the genes associated with schizophrenia (something one of my sons is also working on, and so I was further intrigued).

The researchers had to try and find patterns in a huge amount of data that could help them connect the millions of dots into a genetic picture. The 200-million-pixel,40 by 10 foot wall gave them larger-than-life views of their data sets at very high resolutions. As the Calit2 article said, ". . . they could scrutinize multiple data set sets simultaneously, comparing and contrasting images while they rotated, dissected, spliced and superimposed them." The wall also facilitated collaboration with other researchers in cognitive science, physics, informatics, computer science, neuroanatomy, statistics and genetics. The data was dynamic, could be grouped in many ways (e.g., gender, severity of illness). Before such a high-tech visualization tool, researchers had to grind their way millions of data-gerated numbers.

Use of the wall led to the identification of two genes associated with schizophrenia, and the researchers are now investigating genetic risk factors for Alzheimers.

As John says in his blog, other organizations (such as businesses) need to learn from these labs and consider how their own knowledge workers and potentially high-value teams think together, use information together, innovate together, learn and re-learn together. Tools like the HIPerWall not only help generate new knowledge, they feed curious imaginations that will disturb and overturn existing paradigms,and so present us with new ways of seeing. As Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." Imagination is where knowledge begins life.

To learn more about the HIPerWall you can visit here. You can also see a number of videos on YouTube, including ones where researchers are playing Guitar Hero 2 on the wall. Fun times!

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