When most people think about data visualization, they think about graphs or infographics showing something vaguely interesting, a simple marketing exercise. However, this is not the case; the practice has become essential to today's understanding of data. Without it, communicating the billions of data points available on almost any subject would be impossible, trends in even small data sets would take weeks to find and the understanding of data amongst the general population would be almost non-existent.
The use of data visualization has changed the way that people understand the increasing amount of data available to them, moving from simple datasets with a single purpose (number of website visitors for instance) to more nuanced and complex datasets (geography, demographic, time on page, etc). Being able to see the relationships between these different data sets is essential to the ability to fully action any necessary changes. We are going to see that visualizations are increasingly powerful and necessary in this kind of analysis, with the Internet of Things (IoT) becoming more prominent in the coming years.
Cisco predicts that there will be 50 billion connected devices by 2020, each being able to transmit and collect data. It will give us the most in-depth opportunity to see relationships between different 'things' in human history. We will have the ability to see if there is a link between the types of food in the fridge and the amount of rain in a specific area, or the link between the number of lights turned on in a city at any one time and the amount of sleep people are getting. However, tracking and analyzing these different datasets is only going to be possible with the use of powerful and simple data visualizations.
Alongside this huge influx of data is the seemingly unstoppable increase in the speed of analysis available due to accelerations of processing speeds. We have seen through the use of current technologies like in-memory databases and Apache Spark, alongside those for the future like quantum computing, that the ability to collect, process, and analyze huge datasets is increasing. As these technologies become more prevalent and the use of real-time analytics allows more and more companies to react to issues instantly, visualization is going to be the key that gives companies the opportunity to quickly identify and then act upon it. Without this ability, it would be almost impossible to quickly make decisions on data.
The human brain has evolved to be adept at noticing differences in patterns and, although the AI and machine learning have huge implications in a number of areas, they still lack some of the most important contextual elements in decision making. Therefore, having the ability to quickly and easily notice, and then act upon, patterns in data still falls within the realm of humans, and data visualization is the most powerful tool that allows us to do this. The IoT will certainly run without the use of data visualization, but without it, many of the possibilities that the connected world offers will be missed.