Project : in-situ
Section: Contracts and Grants with Industry
French ACI Very Large Datasets
Over the twenty years that elapsed since the Xerox Star, the first personal computer with a graphical user interface ever commercialized, the amount of information stored on our computers has been subject to a thousand-fold increase. The mass of electronic data we have nowadays at our disposal in both our professional and personal lives is such that the risk of being overwhelmed with information – even with the information we have stored ourselves – has become a serious concern.
Micromegas involves four teams that share their experience in the fields of human movement and cognition, human-computer interaction, information visualization, and multi-modal interaction: LMP in Marseille, In Situ and MerLIn at INRIA, and Institut Pasteur in Paris. One essential feature of our approach is an emphasis on multi-scale interaction. Complexity, we believe, cannot be mastered by the human unless it can be tackled hierarchically: the information contained in a huge set of files or an electronic world atlas cannot be retrieved and utilized unless one can easily manipulate the level of granularity at which one wishes to interact with the data, from the most global level (a view of the subsuming folders, a general view of the planet) to the most local (the contents of a file, a detailed city map). The cognitive capabilities of humans, however, are too limited to encompass such a scope, and hence the challenge is to understand how they spontaneously vary the scale factor and, in the context of computerized information, to help them do so.
Micromegas deliberately focuses on the case of familiar data – both professional and personal – that have been stored by the users themselves, who not only save their own production but also collect external data. Thus, we are more concerned with personal hard disks than the Web. Still, we are facing huge data bases (on the order of several tens of gigabytes) whose size, which keeps on growing exponentially, makes the multi-scale approach compulsory.
The project is organized in three sub-projects, designed to foster collaboration between the participants and structure the research effort.
Sub-project 1 addresses the fundamental aspects of multiscale navigation. Through an experimental approach, it applies the principles of the ecological approach to visual perception from psychologist J.J. Gibson to design and evaluate novel navigation techniques for multiscale information worlds.
Sub-project 2 addresses visualization techniques. Many visualization techniques have been developed over the years, however few address the actual presentation of large data sets. In many cases, data is aggregated before being presented to the user. Such aggregation essentially supports a hierarchical view of the data, while we are interested in richer representations that support multiscale navigation, transformation between views, and efficient use of the display surface.
Sub-project 3 consists of two case studies. The first one covers management of personal file systems, a task facing almost every computer user and not well supported by current desktop interfaces. The second study covers the management of experimental data by biologists at the Institut Pasteur. Rather than focusing on the data used and produced by an experiment, it addresses the wider picture of sense-making that is part of the scientific process of designing, running and analyzing series of experiments.
The expected results of the project include fundamental results on multiscale visualization and navigation, practical tools to create multiscale interfaces, guidelines and recommendations to design multiscale applications, prototype systems for file management and laboratory notebooks, and, in general, a deeper understanding of how humans can take advantage of and interact with multiscale information worlds.