“The things that made me interested in data twenty-five years ago are the same things that make me interested in it now. It’s the way structures and narratives are going to define our culture and who we are. I was interested initially in the historical perspective: how is data going to change the subtlety about how we understand past cultures? And how future generations are going to access data, manipulate it and study it. Very few people were interested in that, and that was exciting. Now I’m a bit scared of it. It’s increasingly clear that we can use data in a contemporary context for social evils.
Data – and the systems that store it – can be ugly, but they can also be beautiful. Some day, people are going to be interested in the beauty of system architectures and the beauty of database design – or the ugliness. It’s like studying a Gothic cathedral or a contemporary city: the architecture defines how we feel and the narrative that plays out in our lives.
I see emerging possibilities in machine learning, in the blockchain and in other areas. I share an understanding of the risks of data. And I believe that what kind of research you actually do – and how you enable others to be creative to do things – these are equally important. More focus needs to go on developing the community and helping our colleagues to progress and excel. The ways forward in digital curation and data presentation are very much going to come from human collaboration and not from one lone person who’s thought of a technical solution that no-one has thought of before. This is not the field of lone scholars – this is the field of general community effort.”