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Uncharted: Big Data as a Lens on Human Culture

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  606 ratings  ·  76 reviews
“One of the most exciting developments from the world of ideas in decades, presented with panache by two frighteningly brilliant, endearingly unpretentious, and endlessly creative young scientists.” – Steven Pinker, author of The Better Angels of Our Nature

Our society has gone from writing snippets of information by hand to generating a vast flood of 1s and 0s that record a
Kindle Edition, 289 pages
Published December 26th 2013 by Riverhead
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Mar 02, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really should only buy books at the airport. I picked up Uncharterd because it had a subtitle with "big data" in it. As my office has started looking at how to mine big data and how to visualize it I thought a "how to" book would help me get moving on understanding how to develop a plan. Well the book failed miserably at that but then that was not it's intent. This is one of the most educational book I have read in years. If I learned nothing I learned that if you have an idea you have to nurt ...more
This was a fun and entertaining read. It starts with a unique set of data becoming available for the first time in human history. As Google started to scan millions of books into its digital library, an opportunity arose to explore new perspectives on the dynamics of cultural evolution over the last couple of centuries. It spawned a new branch of data science: culturomics.

The first part of the book narrates how the authors, two young scientists with a multidisciplinary background, convinced Goo
Ami Iida
Jul 05, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ict, language
the book's theme is "Google books Ngram Viewer"
It analyses lots of books (tens millions books)
The human being can read several books but it read mathematically millions books.
it can lead the relationships of every books.
it is the books revolution!
Dec 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Note: I received an advanced reading copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I find Google’s Ngram Viewer—a graphing tool that charts the frequency of words/phrases as they occur over time in the books currently digitized by Google—to be addictively fun and fascinating, so I was thrilled to find out that the creators wrote a book about it.

“Uncharted” starts out with an overview of “the natural selection”/”survival of the fittest” of irregular verbs, which leads into
Cliff Chew
I saw "Big Data" in its title, and I just had to grab it off the library shelf. Although it is a light read with slight over 200 pages, certain parts of the book felt pretty boring to me. But maybe it is because I am not really into literature. What I loved about the book was what it drew out from the entire process, from ensuring the issues of copyrights, practicalities of releasing the data, to dealing with the messiness of the data, problems with confounding factors, and how these issues were ...more
Peter Mcloughlin
What happens when Google uploads practically every book and publication and this data can be studied for words or phrases and their frequency you get a lens into culture with graphs and plots. These plots will measure things going on in the culture. It will quantify fame and how long it lasts. It will detect censorship and repression. It will chart changes in the English or any other language finding when and where grammar changes took place and when new words came into use. With big data we ca ...more
Andrew Marti
Feb 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Big Data isn't just analyzing what's happening right now. It's used to analyze how we have changed over time. The authors use Google's ngram project to get insight into trends in culture through books and words in those books over the last 300 years. One amazing chapter described the measurable impact on culture due to Nazi oppression in the 1940s. Other chapters show how quickly people gain...and then lose fame. Words, too, have a measurable life and death.

Big Data isn't just for geeks. It's f
Jul 19, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-2014
The problem with this book is that it gets boring, quickly. It discusses the creation of Google's N-gram viewer and how it has been used to study history: which would be great, if the insights being generated were unique. But they aren't: they are primarily reflections of what we already know. I wish the book felt more in depth and thoughtful.
Kylie Burkot
2.5 stars

The last chapter was really strange and way out of scope. Overall, this book was just okay.
Jan 05, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Uncharted can be thought of as a case study for a piece of software that demonstrates two emerging intellectual trends: big data and digital humanities. These are explored in the book though the creation of the Ngram Viewer interface for examining the scanned Google Books collection. Digital humanities is an interdisciplinary trend that brings computerized tracking and digital curating tools to fields such as History, Literature, Philosophy, Geography, and Language studies. When the data being e ...more
Lewis Menelaws
Oct 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love Data. I have been in involved in the Data Science and Big Data scene for a while so I was really pleased to have picked up this book from my local library.

The book talks about analyzing human culture using Google's largest collection of digitized books (over 30 million books). It goes into detail about the fame of some words, slang and how words change using the data as a method of showing how it might of happened. It also goes deep into other methods such as how the Nazi's censored thei
This is a fascinating, interesting, entertaining, and very well written story about language, culture, and big data from the creators of google's ngram viewer. So why only three stars?

The book starts with a discussion of whether a picture is worth a thousand words or a million, and sadly, for a book so taken with the visual representation of data, the pictures here aren't worth the price of admission. Multiple long thin lines on a graph may work well on a computer screen in primary c
Really cool concept. Started off really strong. Can we map human history and rather than let our subjective tales provide the narrative- can we use data science and get real evidence. Then they do it a few times by showing relative frequencies of words or spellings (this, sadly, was the most effective use) over time.

Then they pose cool questions and don't answer all of them until an appendix that is grey scale. I couldn't tell which line went with which object in the legends- that wa
Syed Ashrafulla
Jan 28, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mathematics
The book has an interesting premise: using counting as a way to track the evolution of language. The problem is that all the actual counting is boring, and all of the conclusions are "look at how cool this is" with few attempts to provide an explanation. I thought this book was going to be good when they were describing the phasing out of irregular verb conjugation, but then the other parts were simply charts to answer boring questions.

What I would have liked is a more formal time-ba
A Mig
Apr 12, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-tech
What started like a very promising book ended up being a collection of snapshots on specific term comparisons using Google Ngram. It was interesting but a bit shallow as a consequence. This is unfortunate.

What I found fascinating was the part (in the first pages of the book) on the origin of irregular verbs. Anomalies in Zipf's law, they are the relics of the Proto-Indo-European language (6-12,000yrs old - Ablaut grammatical scheme such as ring rang rung, sing sang sung). They have s
Jun 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Take 40 million books, through an analyzer at it, and what do you get? A way to understand society that uses brute force statistics over hearsay and anecdotes. Especially enjoyed the section on the fragility of fame.
Tamara Jill
Interesting material but jumbled style/organization. The book has too many little stories and ignores established research - like hundreds of years of research by linguists. They come off a bit like know it alls who don’t know quite as much as they think they do.
Jul 08, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, 2019
So many dad jokes.
Donald Sherer
A light and easy read. Some good material but the authors biases come through in the selection and presentation of the data.
Fairly entertaining, a few lol moments, well described and presented.
Jan 30, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In Uncharted: Big Data as a Lens on Human Culture, wunderkinds Erez Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel demonstrate for readers the uses of big data beyond marketing and social networks. The minds behind Google's Ngram Viewer approach human history through the texts of over 30,000 books. Cultural output is ingested, digitized, quantified, and analyzed; the result was the most massive experiment of its kind to that time, and Aiden and Michel use their work here to illuminate the ways in which big data ...more
Feb 18, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book promotes an interesting program which Aiden and Michel helped to develop (the Google Ngram Viewer) and a term they invented (Culturomics - the use of huge amounts of digital information to track changes in language, culture and history), yet I feel they are only touching the surface with the technology they helped to create.

The Ngram Viewer and the use of Culturomics can be useful (software engineer Jeremy Ginsberg observed by researching googling records for a region that
Dwight Penny
The authors worked with the folks at Google to create an interesting sort of index. They looked in the corpus of some 33 million books that Google had scanned for the Google Books project, and counted the occurrences of all words or short sequences of words, up to five words in length published in a given year. The result came to be the Google Books Ngram viewer, where you can type in a handful of words or phrases in a comma-separated list, and graph their frequency of usage over the years from ...more
Feb 02, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Everyone has heard of Big Data; huge amounts of information, usually involving computers or the Internet. Is there a cultural or historical equivalent of Big Data?

Yes, and it comes from Google's intention to digitize all the world's books (or, at least, a significant portion of them). The authors created an algorithm that would search all those books for certain words. On a chart, it will show, for instance, how many times, per million words, the name "Abraham Lincoln" was used, or "
Feb 05, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book summarizes the PhD theses of the two co-authors, and builds on a research article published in Science in 2011. The project itself is fantastic, as is the Google Books project (at least in terms of the scope of data scanned and generated); however, this book falls a little short in digging in to it.

First, there are no endnotes or footnotes or sidenotes (a la Tufte); there is a chapter of "Notes" at the end, but they aren't easily referenced in the text. Second, every plot i
Russell Atkinson
Apr 24, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This nonfiction account of the creation of Google's Ngram Viewer is fascinating. An Ngram is a word or phrase (N words long) and the Viewer measures how often that Ngram appears in books in recorded history up to 2008, at least in those scanned by Google. The authors devised the program's basic features to view history and social change through a factual scientific lens, to see how our word usage changes over time and what that tells us. It begins with the example of illustrating when the United ...more
May 26, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Uncharted" by Erez Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel is an interesting look at the future of cultural studies through the use of "big-data." These two Harvard PHD's use Google's vast collection of digitized books to try and determine trends throughout history, termed by the authors "culturomics."

This is an interesting look at the future of social studies. As we continue to aggregate and digitize our collective knowledge, it will become easier to look back and see how things changed within the Eng
Full disclosure: I know one of the authors, he's married to a friend of mine, and I think he's great. To the extent that colors my opinion, there you are.

I like that this book felt like the authors sitting down on either side of you at a really good cocktail party and being like "SCIENCE! It's awesome, right? Let us tell you about our project because IT IS SO COOL." I have a soft spot for people being nerdily excited about the things to which they're devoting their intellectual energ
Tyson Strauser
Uncharted utilizes big data to help us understand the birth and death of words. The researchers worked with Google's book digitization team to analyze the English language through a mathematical frequency lens as it evolved over time. By studying frequency-based n-grams, the researchers study the mathematical half-life of irregular verbs, the power laws that govern the relationship among their various frequencies of usage, and the consistency of trends in language that lend themselves to extrapo ...more
Nov 13, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating book. It tells the story of the genesis of the Google Books Ngram Viewer ( I hadn't heard of the Ngram Viewer until I read this book, so that alone made it worthwhile to me. I especially enjoyed learning about G. K. Zipf and Zipf's law, that the Wright brothers first invented the airplane in large part because they invented the wind tunnel, and the different kinds of error that had to be corrected for or that might skew results.

There is also a cool table of the most famous person (
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“We can instantly map the usage of the word 'raven' across the United States, in works of narrative poetry, written by men in their thirties. but only up to 1923. When it comes to the last century, save if new law affords entry, then the lawyer - dark-robed sentry - who is ever at our door, will yet whisper, "Nevermore!” 0 likes
“If we want to understand fame, what we need is a wind tunnel.” 0 likes
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