ScienceVisual Art

The World in Friendships

I had an image of the world from space at night on my wall for most of my university career. It is a beautiful image that does a wonderful job of giving perspective on the breadth of human civilization and impact on the world.

Here is another image that has recently been created that represents human civilization in a new, thought provoking and elegant way.

Paul Butler, a facebook intern, created this image from the friendships database at facebook. I’ll let him tell you how he did it. But basically its a summary of facebook relationships.

What I want to talk about are the implications.  Socially, this image represents a number of things. Most apparent is how global facebook has become. Almost the entire world map can be easily distinguished by the interactions between people.

The next thing that can be pulled from it is some clear borders; Brazil is notably missing from the map. Almost all of mainland Asia is gone except for the bright island of India, whose borders are almost perfectly defined. The dark continent is still pretty dark but the edges are well defined. The gaps probably represent two things: places that don’t use Facebook and places that can’t use Facebook. Those poor, struggling nations; bereft of the capacity to know the consistency of their former classmates every bowel movement.

Finally, notice the number of lines crossing oceans. I’ve not seen quite so compelling a representation as to how interconnected the world has become. This is a map of people that feel a personal connection to each other and there are sweeping currents of relationships running all over the world…Inspiring.

From a totally different angle, this is a brilliant aesthetic work. Kudos to Paul for the choice of colour scheme and intensity. It’s beautiful and serene. The construction also leads to an interesting trend in contemporary art. This image essentially made itself. Rather a lot of work went into creating the brush with which it was painted, but then the brush worked all by itself to create the image. I wonder how long it will be until we can just tell Maya what we want and it will create a world for us.

How long until our machines can create art without human intervention? Can it be considered art without an artist? Are we going to have to, yet again, redefine “art”?

The future is awesome.


Ryan is a professional nerd, teaching engineering in the frozen north. Somewhat less professionally, he is a costumer, author, blacksmith, juggler, gamer, serial enthusiast, and supporter of the Oxford comma. He can be found on twitter and instagram @studentofwhim. If you like what I do here, feel free to leave a tip in my tipjar.

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  1. “How long until our machines can create art without human intervention? Can it be considered art without an artist? Are we going to have to, yet again, redefine “art”?”

    That reminds me of this clip showing Raymond Kurzweil playing music composed by a computer which he built:

    which I learned about reading an article about a concept called Singularity on,8599,2048138,00.html
    It discusses the point at which computers are going to become self-aware (and of course create Skynet immediately to kill us all).

  2. > Brazil is notably missing from the map.

    This isn’t because of censorship or racism or poverty, it’s because Brasil loves Orkut rather than Facebook.

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