Presented By O'Reilly and Cloudera
Make Data Work
Feb 17–20, 2015 • San Jose, CA

Humanizing Data - Building Systems and Interfaces for Domain Experts

Ari Gesher (Kairos Aerospace), James Thompson (Palantir Technologies)
4:00pm–4:40pm Thursday, 02/19/2015
Design & Interfaces
Location: LL21 E/F
Average rating: ****.
(4.90, 10 ratings)

Big data technologies have seen explosive growth, and the scale problem that originally defined the genre have been largely solved by a robust ecosystem of technologies and vendors that have commodified large-scale data processing.

But interfaces have lagged far behind – the state of the art in today’s big data world is replicating the functionality of the spreadsheet or the SQL query on top of vastly more data. While it’s true that one does not need to be a programmer to use these technologies anymore, the more advanced querying interfaces still lack the ability to clearly model the real-world phenomena that the data in these systems represent – not only at the user interface level, but even at the data model level. The upshot of this is that the pool of potential users for these systems – while larger than in the early days of Hadoop – is still a fairly small pool of technically focused analysts.

What’s lost in all of this is the ability for the people who know the most about the problems these systems are built to solve to interact directly with the data in a form that’s not just recognizable to them, but also allows them to efficiently manipulate, query, and collaborate around that data to get their most important work done.

And ironically, much of the dreaming that goes into the UX of theoretical systems tends to imagine that the right interface is something out of a science fiction movie – large, flashy, complex, and operated by an expert user.

Designing Systems for Humans

In our talk, we’ll be looking at the entire architecture of these sorts of systems from the ground up, talking about the design choices made at each level of the stack – from low-level data integration, intermediate modeling, data platform. More importantly, how these decisions bubble up to drive the art of the possible and efficient in user interfaces.

In the final section, lead designer James Thompson will delve into modern big data interfaces, preconceived notions that are way off, and what it takes to build an interface that people will actually use and love.

Photo of Ari Gesher

Ari Gesher

Kairos Aerospace

Ari Gesher is a senior software engineer and Engineering Ambassador at Palantir Technologies. He is co-authoring the upcoming book, Architecture of Privacy, about building data systems that responsibly handle sensitive data.

At Palantir Technologies, Ari has split his time between working as a design prototyper for the user interface team, a backend engineer on Palantir’s analysis platform, thinking and writing about Palantir’s vision for human-driven information data systems, and moonlighting on both Palantir’s Privacy and Civil Liberties team and Philanthropic engineering team. His current role involves understanding and discussing Palantir’s role in the world of analytics, big data, the future of technology, and it’s impact on the world.

An alumnus of the University of Illinois computer science department, Ari has worked in the software industry for the past fifteen years, including a stint as the lead engineer for the open source software archive.

Ari often speaks on the topic of big data and the limits of automated decision making. Recently, he’s spoken at GigaOm Structure, MIT’s Technology Review’s EmTech Conference, Harvard Business School, the Institute for the Future’s Tech Horizons Conference, the Economist Future Technologies Summit, and PayPal’s TechXploration series.

James Thompson

Palantir Technologies

Hello, I am James. I’m 29, live in San Francisco, and work in tech. I grew up pretty modestly in small towns in FL and WV, read a lot of books on astrophysics and human evolution, got a degree in aerospace, and went to Stanford as an NSF Fellow.

People describe me as curious, creative, and a little crazy. My résumé calls me a product manager, a designer, and an engineer. I see myself as more of a scientist.

Today, I work at the intersection of people and data at Palantir, where I help design and manage products that straight-up blow my mind. We mold messy, complex, raw data into a narrative that ordinary people can read as easily as a Sunday comic—I call this humanizing data. I am endlessly inspired by my colleagues.