Giorgia Lupi Makes You Think Twice About Your Technological Devices Via Data Visualization

Posted inDebbie Millman
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The artist-in-residence for Art + Data, Giorgia Lupi, recently released her second visualization.

Lupi is an information designer whose approach to data is humanistic. Often, she challenges the rigidness of data, designing approachable visual narratives that allow numbers to portray what they stand for: stories, people, and ideas.

RAND's Art + Data Residency program is part of its new NextGen Initiative, a group of projects intended to add to RAND's cutting-edge capabilities and available public policy research to younger artists. Co-curated by Millman and The Gordon Co., the residency highlights achieved and developing artists each quarter as they visualize data rooted in RAND's rigorous research and analysis.

In her latest piece, Internet of Bodies: Our Connected Future, Giorgia investigates the ecosystem of the Internet of Bodies. She sheds awareness on devices that observe the human body, accumulates private health data, and sends that information through the internet, including everything from our fitness monitors worn on our wrists, implanted cardiac devices, and brain stimulation tools. The visualization also nods to the 1977 Charles Eames film Powers of Ten to demonstrate the scale of the IoB landscape both on a small and broad scale.

Not only are Lupi's works colorful in nature, but they stop and make you consider the technological tools you implement into your lifestyle and whether or not they might be more of a benefit or a risk.

The Internet of Bodies includes devices that monitor the human body, collect personal health and biometric data, and transmit that data over the internet, such as wristwatch fitness monitors, implantable cardiac devices and brain stimulation technologies. Lupi’s visualization anatomizes research from RAND’s The Internet of Bodies report, bringing awareness to the booming IoB frontier. Internet of Bodies: Our Connected Future also nods to Charles Eames’ 1977 film Powers of Ten to illustrate the scale of the IoB landscape from both a macro and micro perspective.

“We took a speculative approach to Eames’ Powers of Ten film, in which we sought to raise similar questions about how perception of the human body will be transformed with and through IoB technology,” Lupi said. “The visualization seeks to educate the viewer about this technology and their potential effects, while also artistically evoking the future ‘data ecosystems’ that will surround us when these technologies are employed at huge scales.”

“This compelling illustration conveys the promise and potential perils of IoB technologies in a visually compelling way that helps us better understand the potential of these devices,” added Debbie Millman, designer and host of the award-winning podcast Design Matters and a co-curator of the RAND program.

Through intimate access to consumers’ bodies and health data, IoB technologies promise improved physical performance, revolutions in medical treatments, and convenience – while also posing cybersecurity and other risks. The FDA and U.S. Department of Commerce govern a fraction of IoB devices, and a patchwork of other organizations govern IoB data, but much of the space remains unregulated. Many devices fall outside of clear regulatory guidelines, creating opportunities for privacy infringement, increased healthcare costs and vulnerabilities that may be exploited by numerous actors.

A fuller understanding of the long-term implications of these devices needs to be achieved before the benefits of IoB can be fully realized, according to Mary Lee, a RAND mathematician and lead author of the research.

“The rise of devices that connect the human body to the web is accelerating rapidly,” Lee said. “This Internet of Bodies could revolutionize health care and improve our quality of life. But without appropriate guardrails, it could also jeopardize our most intimate personal information and introduce serious ethical concerns. Lupi’s stunning visualization should draw more public attention to this frontier and help inspire essential conversations around getting the balance right.

RAND recommends that policy makers and other stakeholders address IoB risks by staying ahead of cybersecurity and consumer privacy issues, and tasking IoB developers and device makers to provide greater protection from hackers and build evidence supporting efficacy claims.