500 Billion Words

I haven’t linked to a TED video in a while so here is a very interesting one that is not very mathematical but I’m sure is of interest to mathematicians – even if it tells us that mathematics does not lead to fame.

Of particular interest is one of the speakers, Erez Lieberman Aiden, who will be familiar to reader of Cal Newport’s Study Hacks Blog as he has written about him here and here. If you don’t have time to read those (and if you are a student I strongly suggest that you do), then the short story is that Lieberman Aiden has published only six papers but has had an enormous impact because they have been good papers. And I mean good. All have been in Science or Nature and two have been cover articles. The talk in the video is about one of those, the hunt for cultural shifts using the data from Google’s controversial book digitization programme. You can read about it here in the New York Times.

Unusually for TED the talk is a two-hander with Lieberman Aiden sharing the stage with Jean-Baptiste Michel. You’ve got to feel a bit sorry for Michel. He’s obviously a smart guy – he holds a post-doc position at Harvard and is a Visiting Fellow at Google – and yet is overshadowed in the media’s reception of the work.

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