Charlotte Visualization Center celebrates opening with Visionary Symposium

Visual analytics is vital for intelligence analysts and for the rest of us too

The information age is on the verge of experiencing a revolution but the next step is not going to be just another jump in processing power. This time the world will experience a quantum leap forward in human ability to interact with and control that power. This next stage in information management is coming to us through the fields of visualization and visual analytics.

Visual analytics research and development is especially important to defense and intelligence agencies, where monitoring and analyzing the world's vast and still rapidly expanding stream of information is critical to national security, but the technology's tools also have powerful business applications and may in the end have an even larger impact in helping the average citizen conquer the modern threat of personal information overload.

On May 1 and 2, a group of some of the world's most prominent visualization researchers will gather at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte to present visionary views on future of the field. The event, entitled "Symposium on the Future of Visualization," is being held to celebrate the establishment of UNC Charlotte's new Charlotte Visualization Center.

"Right now, the implications of visualization and visual analytics research for Homeland Security are on everyone's mind," said William Ribarsky, director of the Charlotte Visualization Center and symposium organizer, "but the same sorts of tools that are being developed to explore for money laundering or intelligence analysis can be critical to avert fraud in the financial industry and can even be used for business intelligence or for developing market plans.

"The tools allow you to ask large, open-ended exploratory questions about markets – say 'How is a new policy in England going to affect my market in Europe?' – and then to collect, organize and analyze a vast amount of content, filtering down to the critical news and information."

The technology, Ribarsky notes, has found broad application in areas where humans need to manipulate and explore huge sources of raw information. In medicine, for example, detailed digital body scan data can be manipulated to allow doctors to perform 3-D virtual exploratory procedures, such as the virtual colonoscopy (a non-invasive, patient-saving procedure now in use, developed by symposium speaker Arie Kaufman) where the physician can digitally explore tissues even advanced probes might not be able to see. But perhaps the most important application of all may be the way the technology is likely to be able to help the average consumer deal with the contemporary phenomena of "information overload" – to manage and control the daily flood of news, email and documents and to effectively access the ever-expanding galaxy of information and entertainment sources available.

"Take the average computer – we're losing control," said Ribarsky. "Suppose that you have 10,000 or 20,000 files in Windows folders. We know how ineffective this setup is – search tools are ineffective. Stanford's Pat Hanrahan (symposium speaker) is working on an 'associative interface.' You still have the underlying folders and files, but you have tools that look into the files and tell you 'these files are related to these files' – image files that might be related to text files, video that might be related to text. You can have an interface where these things are clustered together and you can have nice links between them that show the groupings. This may be the only way to go as we get approach terabytes of storage space, plus access to a whole world of information by the internet.

"Then there's the other media -- we're becoming overloaded with choices," he said. "You have 100 to 200 channels on cable. Well, suppose you had 500 to 1000 channels… now what are you going to do?

"We're developing automatic image understanding for content as well as video and multi-media analysis. One of our researchers is developing a tool that will eventually be able to look at 100-200 broadcast channels or more, find where the news or other content is and then determine what the topics are in the news – this can be all automated and then provided in a compact, easily scannable visual interface. Visual analytics is an obvious thing for intelligence analysts, but it can be used for anything."

In addition to presentations on the leading edges of research in the field, symposium attendees will see demonstrations of the latest visualization tools, tour the Charlotte Visualization Center, and have the opportunity to confer with leaders and colleagues in business, government and academia. (See information on symposium registration at the end of this release.)

Invited speakers for the symposium include James Thomas, Laboratory Fellow at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Director of the country's recently created National Visualization and Analytics Center (which is based at the lab, but also has five regional centers at universities, including UNC Charlotte's RVAC); Stuart Card, Senior Research Fellow at the renowned Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and a visualization theorist whose insights helped develop the computer mouse; Pat Hanrahan, Canon USA Professor at Stanford University, Fellow of the National Academy of Engineering, and director of Stanford's RVAC; Arie Kaufman, Distinguished Professor and Chairman of the Department of Computer Science at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, IEEE Fellow, and the developer of the now-widely-used virtual colonoscopy procedure; Chuck Hansen, Professor of Computer Science at the University of Utah and winner of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' Visualization Technical Achievement Award; James Foley, Stephen Fleming Chair in Telecommunications at the Georgia Institute of Technology and former director of Mitsubishi Electronics Research Labs; Daniel Keim, Chair of Information Processing at the University of Konstanz and one of Europe's leading visualization researchers; and William Ribarsky, Bank of America Endowed Chair in Information Technology at UNC Charlotte and director of the Charlotte Visualization Center.

The symposium's invited speakers will reveal what the future holds for interactive visualization and visual analytics in such areas as business intelligence, risk management, biomedical visual analysis, environmental analysis, critical infrastructure visual simulation, and other areas. They will show why companies such as Microsoft, Google, General Motors, Toyota, and large banks and financial institutions are very interested in the field, the tools being developed, and the students being trained. (See a list of speakers and topics appended below.)

The Charlotte Visualization Center at UNC Charlotte is the research center for the Visualization Program in the College of Information Technology, one of the leading programs of its kind in the U.S. The center's mission is to develop and promote the science of visual analytics and to advance interactive visualization as an integrative discipline that is indispensable for attacking major real-world issues. (For more information on the Charlotte Visualization Center or the UNC Charlotte Visualization Program, contact Director William Ribarsky at [email protected]. )

The Symposium on the Future of Visualization is free for members of the UNC Charlotte community, but registration is required. Cost for other registrants $120. For registration or for more information go to For free press registration, contact Jim Hathaway at 704-687-6675.


Symposium Presentations:

Stu Card, "Using Vision to Think"
Jim Foley, "Just Another Pretty Visualization? or The What, Where, When, Why, and How of Evaluating Visualization"
Pat Hanrahan, "Towards Automating Graphic Design"
Chuck Hansen, "The Future of Large-Scale Scientific Visualization"
Arie Kaufman, "Virtual Colonoscopy"
Daniel Keim, "Scalability in Visual Data Exploration: Learning from Human Information Processing"
Kent Larson, "Visualization and the Creation of More Responsive Places for Living"
William Ribarsky, "Knowledge Visualization"
Jim Thomas "Visual Analytics: a Grand Challenge in Science - Turning Information Overload into the Opportunity of the Decade"

Panel: "Other Thoughts on the Future of Visualization," with Fred Brooks, Kenan Professor at UNC Chapel Hill, Larry Hodges, CS Department Chair at UNC Charlotte, and Agus Sudjianto, Senior Vice President in charge of Risk Management at Bank of America.

Last updated: 30 Apr 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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