Does Wales Exist? How Data Could Transform Borders And Boundaries [Video]

MIT's Senseable Cities project shows how data could minimise disruption to the 'human network' and transform political borders.

Stephen Fortune
Stephen Fortune on May 6, 2011.

Networked technologies are ubiquitious and essential but still in a relative technological infancy. What might their long term impact on our countries and borders prove to be?

The pioneering work of MIT’s SENSEable City Lab poses some provocative questions in this regard. At FutureEverything Festival 2011 they will present Borderline, which redraws the map of Great Britain from a network of human interactions. MIT’s work explores whether regional boundaries defined by centralised governments respect the more natural ways that people interact across space. It investigates whether hierarchical provision for the populace matches the lived reality of everyday life by using the abundant resource of telephone and cellphone data, the largest non-Internet human network:

“By analyzing information about billions of telecommunications records, the researchers assembled a map depicting the strength of the connections between different parts of Great Britain, based on the amount of information they exchanged.”

One of the more inflammatory conclusions reached by the data was suggesting that in some ways, the historical distinction between England and Wales may be obsolete!

“The value of the new work is that it shows that analyzing information flow could be a useful tool in the drawing of political boundaries… it will only become more useful as data from other networks — the Internet, Internet telephone networks, instant-messaging networks — become available for analysis.”

While emphasising the ambiguity of Wales might be a touchy subject within the borders of the British Isles, the real merit of the work lies in applying the algorithm to telephone data from countries in which the re-drawing of the political map is a very real possibility. In such cases analysis of communication patterns could help define boundaries whose imposition would minimize the disruption to the lives of ordinary people. Watch a video below for an illustration of how the UK can be redrawn

FutureEverything 2011 takes place from 11th May to 14th May.

MIT SenseABLE City: Borderline