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Towards a Role of Visualization in Social Modeling

Towards a Role of Visualization in Social Modeling

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Towards A Role of Visualization in Social Modeling
Remco Chang
Alex Godwin
Robert Kosara
William Ribarsky
UNC CharlotteCharlotte Visualization Centerwww.viscenter.uncc.edu
@uncc.edu, jagodwin@gmail.com
The traditional role of visualization in large scale socialmodeling projects has mostly been relegated to presen-tation and reporting. While these projects see the po-tential of communicating information visually, the vi-sualization component has too often been considered asthe final stage of a long process, sometimes as a last-minute add-on. The result is that these visualizationcomponents are limited in capabilities, and often appeardisjointed and forced from the rest of the project. Inthis paper, we propose that for visualization to be morecommonly accepted, it needs to fit the role as an ana-lytical tool on top of being a presentation component.We use our probe-based visualization as an example of how such cross-over can occur, and present some chal-lenges in social modeling that can be addressed usingvisualization techniques.
Visualization is becoming prevalent in our everyday lives.Popular websites such as Google Maps, the Visual The-saurus, and Baby Name Voyager have increased the public’sawareness of how information can be efficiently commu-nicated visually. In the past few years alone, visualizationcomponents are appearing with more frequency in the finalproducts of large scale social modeling projects.However, a gap still remains between how the visualiza-tion community identifies itself and the perception of therole of visualization by the other disciplines. For too oftenvisualization is considered to be the last step of a project,where visualization experts are asked to “make pretty pic-tures out of the final data” without having participated in thedesign or implementation of the overall system.We propose that for visualization to take a more integralpart in these systems, it needs to fulfill both the roles of apresentation tool as well as an analytical tool. Not onlydoes visualization need to deliver the “pretty pictures,italso needs to provide the analytical capability that is difficultfornon-visualcomponentstodeliver. Asanexample, wede-scribeourprobe-basedvisualizationthatsupportsinteractiveanalysis and presentation of an agent-based simulation. Wethen propose additional challenges in social modeling thatcan be addressed by integrating a visualization component.
2009, Association for the Advancement of ArtificialIntelligence (www.aaai.org). All rights reserved.
Visualization for Presentation and Analysis
We designed a probe-based visualization as an interface toan agent-based model for simulating the social-economicfactors of Afghanistan (Butkiewicz et al. 2008). Althoughthe interface is designed independently of the simulation, itachieves both goals of presentation and analysis. On the pre-sentation level, the interface allows the user to interactivelyselect regions-of-interest and presents pop-up windows con-taining information visualizations of the specified areas. Onthe analysis level, these regions-of-interest are connected tothe simulation in real time. Local parameters can be modi-fied through the associated pop-up visualizations which al-lows the user to immediately see the effects (Figure 1).Figure 1:
Our probe-based visualization of an agent-based simulation, used to study the possible effects of development  projects and other interventions in Afghanistan.
Compared to the traditional agent-based simulation inter-face, the probe-based visualization offers multiple advan-tages. Without the ability to select localized regions, tradi-tional visualizations for agent-based simulation depict infor-mation at a global scale. Similarly, the hundreds of controlsfor the parameters of the simulation are displayed withoutcontext. It is difficult to understand which slider controlswhat parameter, and at what geospatial locations.This example illustrates how a visualization can functionboth as presentation and analysis tools. Through high inter-
activity, the user can select regions of interest and displayinformation relating to those areas. By directly manipulat-ing these pop-up visualizations, the user can alter the simu-lation’s parameters and experiment with what-if scenarios.
Challenges in Social Modeling
Agent-based modeling and simulation is not the only do-main that can benefit from visualizations that function bothas presentation and analysis tools. Here we present a fewchallenges in social modeling that can benefit from visual-ization techniques.
Analysis with Uncertainty
In problems relating to human activities, uncertainty is of-ten a factor in modeling and simulation. For analysts to ef-fectively make decisions, it is imperative that they under-stand the uncertainties that are inherent in the data and thesolution (Godwin et al. 2008). For a few specific prob-lems, visualization techniques are available for presentingdata with different degrees of trustworthiness. For example,fog-of-war (blurring) is a typical technique used to displayquestionable geospatial data. In information visualization of multivariate data, Xie et al. treat data quality as an additionaldimension in the visualization (Xie et al. 2006): uncertaintyinformation is collected with the original data and trackedthrough the entire program. Any effects of data transforma-tions on quality can thus also be included in the visualiza-tion.However, in social modeling and simulation there arefewer techniques that effectively convey the uncertaintywithin the data. One exception is the use of lattices for de-picting words with multiple meanings in different contexts.The Visual Thesaurus is a good example of this type of vi-sualization. Collins et al. (Collins, Carpendale, and Penn2007) apply the same technique to display multiple possibletranslationsofthesamesentenceinaforeignlanguage. Sim-ilarly, Albrecht et al. (J.S. Albrecht 2008) also utilize node-link structures for translating Chinese to English that takesinto account the context of the translated words. Althoughboth Collins et al. and Albrecht et al. apply similar tech-niques for visualizing the uncertainty within a single transla-tor, it is not difficult to extend the same technique to “merge”translations of the same sentence from multiple translators.This type of visualization intuitively conveys the ambiguousnature of translations and offers the user a simple display tounderstand the potential multiple meanings behind the samesentence.
Heterogeneous Processes
Datausedinanalyzingsocialbehaviorsisoftencomplexanduncoordinated. For example, to understand the cause andeffect of civil strife (Wang et al. 2008), one must at leastconsider social, economic, political, and religious factors.Collecting data for these aspects is difficult enough, but toweave them together to form a coherent picture is even morechallenging. Worse yet, unifying these data could introduceconflicts within them, or sometimes remove parts of the datathat are of value.Instead of coordinating heterogeneous data into a singledataset, we propose that a visualization approach to man-aging heterogenous processes could be more efficient andcost-effective. In this approach, individual processes devel-oped to analyze each type of data is run independently of theother processes. The visualization then serves as a manage-ment tool for coordinating the necessary process to executeand organizing the resulting knowledge artifacts. Similar tothe Scalable Reasoning System by Pike et al. (Pike, May,and Turner 2007), these artifacts can be treated as hypothe-sis, evidence, etc. in the final analysis process to fully un-derstand the causes and effects of events.Wang et al. (Wang et al. 2009) apply this concept tovisually analyzing bridge conditions. In their system, thecondition of a bridge is summarized through three differentsources of data - the bridge engineer’s report, remote im-agery, and 3D laser scans (LiDAR). These three sources of data are interpreted and analyzed using disparate technolo-gies, but each analysis result is integrated into a cohesivevisual analytical system. However, the analysis results of the three sources of data often contradict each other, and itis through the use of the visual analytical system that thebridge analysts can identify the reasons behind the contra-dictions and make informed decisions by forming a com-plete understanding of all aspects of the problem.
Visualizing Search Spaces
In an experiment involving financial analysts using a vi-sual analytical tool for fraud detection in wire transac-tions, Stukes et al. find that analysts have a tendencyto “re-discover” the same suspicious activities multipletimes (Stukes et al. 2009). One reason is that the ana-lysts’ memory fades over time. Another is that analysts of-ten take different strategies to find suspicious behaviors, butthe strategies sometimes lead to the same suspicious trans-actions. When the analysts apply different strategies, it isimpossible for them to foresee which activities these strate-gies will reveal. By the time they realize that they have ar-rived at the same discoveries, valuable time has already beenwasted.Similarly, Jeong et al. (Jeong et al. 2008) demonstratethat there is a great deal of knowledge embedded in an an-alyst’s interactions with an interactive visual analytical sys-tem. Through the use of appropriate tools and methodolo-gies, much of the analysts’ knowledge and the reasoningprocesses used to perform the analysis are in fact recover-able only through examining the analyst’s interactions (Douet al. 2009). Together with the findings of Stukes et al.,the discovery of Jeong et al. give weight to the need of avisualization that allows analysts to see and understand theinteractions and analysis that have been performed.Visualizingtheanalysts’searchspaceandinteractionshastwo important functions. During the investigation, the ana-lyst can see the path of their analysis and project if they areinvestigating the same transactions or accounts. It can alsobe used as a communication and reporting tool. By sharingthe visualized search space, the analyst can quickly showfellow analysts the areas that have been examined. More im-portantly, this visualization will demonstrate the paths that
the analyst undertakes to identify the fraudulent activities.Together, this simple visualization functions as both presen-tation and analysis tools to understanding the problem do-main.
Social Network Analysis
An increasingly popular trend in online user interaction isthe creation and maintenance of relationships through socialnetworking websites. Friendster, MySpace, and Facebook are just a few examples of sites boasting membership in themillions from around the globe. Appropriate analysis of on-line social networks has applications in advertising, trend-spotting, market prediction, and defense.One of the most frequent goals of social network analy-sis (SNA) is the identification of communities. While somesocial networking communities, such as Facebook, do allowusers to place themselves into groups, others do not. Com-munities must therefore be detected through analysis. Vi-sualization tools for the presentation and analysis of socialnetworks, such as Heer and Boyd’s Vizster (Heer and Boyd2005), allow analysts to detect community structure whennone is explicitly provided by users through visual explo-ration of the social network in a node-link diagram.Perer and Shneiderman’s SocialAction (Perer and Shnei-derman 2006) takes another approach. SocialAction pro-vides integration of visual exploration and statistical meth-ods to discover community structure as well as rank theimportance of individuals to the connectivity of the socialmodel. Systematic exploration is tightly coupled to the vi-sualization of the social network, and as a result, the modeland its representation evolve as the user interacts with thedata.This idea is taken further by Godwin in Time Web (God-win 2008), a tool used for the generation of similaritynetworks from activity records of individuals over time.Through the application of a similarity detection algorithm,individuals can be compared to each other to identify thosewho follow similar trends of behavior (Figure 2). The re-sults of analysis are presented using an evolving representa-tion of the similarity network that allows the user to providefeedback and modify the algorithm. While the algorithm issufficient to detect similarity between two individuals, thisvisualization is necessary to develop a greater understand-ing of the interaction of thousands of individuals or more.Through study of the similarity network, analysts are ableto identify shared trends as well as communities who fol-low the same behavioral patterns. This can yield insight intosocial interactions between similar individuals.
Visualization has the potential of becoming an integral partof social modeling and simulation. It is up to the researchersin thevisualization community to identify methods and toolsthat can be immediately applied to address the needs of thesocial scientists. We demonstrate that one promising direc-tion for visualization is to play both the roles of presentationand analysis. By leveraging the capabilities of visualizationtechniques, we hope that some difficult challenges in socialmodeling can be efficiently addressed.Figure 2:
A similarity network created in Time Web. Thesource data is a collection of terrorist attacks, which our software grouped by the terrorist organization responsibleto uncover similarities between groups. Groups that were found to be very similar were connected in the similaritynetwork.
Butkiewicz, T.; Dou, W.; Wartell, Z.; Ribarsky, W.; andChang, R. 2008. Multi-focused geospatial analysis usingprobes.
Visualization and Computer Graphics, IEEE Transactions on
. To appear.Collins, C.; Carpendale, M. S. T.; and Penn, G. 2007.Visualization of uncertainty in lattices to support decision-making. In
, 51–58.Dou, W.; Jeong, D. H.; Stukes, F.; Ribarsky, W.; Lipford,H. R.; and Chang, R. 2009. Recovering reasoning processfrom user interactions.
IEEE Computer Graphics and  Applications
. Accepted for Publication.Godwin, A.; Chang, R.; Kosara, R.; and Ribarsky, W.2008. Visual analysis of entity relationships in the globalterrorism database. volume 6983, 69830G. SPIE.Godwin, A. 2008. Time web: Comparing unevenly-spaced time sequences using social network analysis of local alignment pairs. Master’s thesis, University of NorthCarolina at Charlotte.Heer, J., and Boyd, D. 2005. Vizster: Visualizing onlinesocial networks. In
Proceedings of the IEEE Symposiumon Information Visualization (InfoVis)
.Jeong, D. H.; Dou, W.; Lipford, H. R.; Stukes, F.; Chang,R.; and Ribarsky, W. 2008. Evaluating the relationship

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