Posted by: Ben | January 27, 2010

Human Life Histories as Tree Rings

One visualization I’ve been thinking about is tree rings — children are taught pretty early on that you can look at a tree’s rings and see its entire life history in one visualization.  While this does not capture every facet of the tree’s life, it does represent one view.

I think if one’s life were properly quantified, you could look at his life’s “rings” and see how his development slowed or progressed relative to other people, based on the “size” and “health” of those rings.  Did this person gain weight more in this period relative to others in his neighborhood or demographic?  Did this person start losing income at this age in this profession while his peers advanced?  What would have caused that?  The implications are staggering, once your data set gets wide enough.

From the above, it seems like some of the key inputs are geolocation, health indicators, nationality, demographics, time.

Similar to what 23andMe does, which is record your genotype, and then interpret and analyze based on that, improving the analysis as new research comes out, the key for Galapag.us is to allow people to input their raw data in as many different areas as possible, so that as new links and causations are discovered, people can instantly start comparing their data to other people, nationalities, demographics, countries, etc.

I’d be fascinated to see how a whole company using Galapag.us in the US (say, Google) would differ in different factors like number of children, average education, average weight/height vs., say, a Japanese megabank.  How do their cultures affect the outcomes for their employees?  How does American-style capitalism (get rich or die tryin’) affect its citizens relative to a politically controlled Chinese capitalism?  Beyond GDP/capita, life expectancy, and the other very limited indicators we can get only through national censuses…

We need individual unit-based statistics sets to get to the next level.  These disparate units of measurement for human capital just don’t cut it anymore.  We need tree rings for people before we can get proper tree rings for races, nations, and cultures.

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