Hans Rosling Shows You 200 Years of Global Growth in 4 Minutes

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Augmented reality helps Rosling explain the past 200 years of global history.

BBC Four is airing a documentary series which reveals that statistics, far from being a cure for insomnia, is one of the most exciting topics on the planet. The Joy of Stats is both a playful romp through the realm of public data, and a somber look at how much we have yet to understand about our own global society. To guide their exploration of the power of numbersthe BBC grabbed the perfect presenter: Hans Rosling. A professor of international health in Sweden, Rosling has a long history of exploring the facts and figures that surround our changing world. In the short segment of the BBC series below, Rosling gives one of his most famous lectures with a new twist. Using 120,000+ bits of data and augmented reality, the exuberant professor takes us through the last 200 years of global history and its uneven growth of wealth and health. No one makes statistics sound quite as awe-inspiring as Rosling. Check out the video and see what I mean.

While this isn't the first time that Rosling has given this lecture, this is the first time he's used augmented reality technology. Pretty cool update, if you ask me, and fitting with Rosling's approach to statistics. He has continually struggled to find new ways of presenting data that speaks to and engages the audience. His Gapminder site makes public data easily accessible, colorful, and meaningful to people who would otherwise ignore graphs as boring. In Rosling's long history of amazing lectures (many of which can be found on YouTube) he has shown the importance of understanding the history of global changes if we want to plan for a better future.

Rosling's review of the past 200 years leaves me rather optimistic about the years ahead. As he has outlined elsewhere, there are serious problems facing us in regards to exponential population growth and global health. Yet there are also solutions to humanity's grand challenges of poverty, health, energy, etc. Demonstrations like this one could help broader audiences not only grasp the seriousness of the situation, but have hope that we can improve the world with out policies and technologies. As Rosling shows, the world is always changing and our beliefs must change with it. Perhaps colorful graphs and exciting lectures will help us reshape how we think of the world. At the very least they'll change the way we think of statistics.


"I kid you not, statistics are now the sexiest subject on the planet" ---Hans Rosling, 2010

The Joy of Stats will next air on Tuesday Dec 7th at 9pm on BBC Four. UK readers can access additional clips on the BBC Four website.

[image and video credits: BBC Four]
[source: BBC Four]

Discussion — 25 Responses

  • Zap! Squeak! Design! December 9, 2010 on 11:19 pm

    I agree that it’s an amazingly clear visualization of data and it’s great to watch. However there are two things that come to mind, especially in reference to the very optimistic wrap up. First I wonder how they are accounting for inflation and global monetization in the $ figures? Second and more importantly, I feel that in the global economy that we currently are all a part of, a significant group of people need to be at the bottom supporting those at the top – the massive and growing disparity between the top and bottom earning groups are in fact what allows the top figures to go so high (ie: someone needs to be manufacturing something for $.01 on the dollar on the left of the chart in order for the other $.99 profit to lift the groups on the right). To think that all populations would just migrate to the top of the chart is not taking into account the global economy. Or maybe I am just being a pessimist.

    • Anonymous Zap! Squeak! Design! December 10, 2010 on 12:57 pm

      That’s where robots COULD become important. Replacing the minimum wage employees. When that happens it could either be the greatest thing ever and nobody has to work anymore or it could make hundreds of millions of people unemployed and increase the gap between rich and poor even further.

      • Hawkeye December 14, 2010 on 8:28 pm

        How many Luddites would pop up then?

    • mpeg2tom Zap! Squeak! Design! December 14, 2010 on 9:14 pm

      The rich west gets very little from the poor people of poor countries. There is now some oil and minerals flowing from poor countries, but most still comes from middle-income countries. On the other hand, the middle-income countries are producing a lot of cheaper manufactured goods for rich countries, but the middle-income countries are rapidly growing and getting richer because of it.

  • Jemoeder10 December 10, 2010 on 10:24 pm

    lol @ not mentioning Africa not catching up

  • Jay December 11, 2010 on 1:11 am

    Great video, same content was in a TED conference from a few years ago. I just don’t the optimistic comments at the end. Of course tech and science advance are making human kind healther and richer, nothing new there, been known for ages. What is really striking (and scary) for me is the confirmation that the benefits of this advance take over a hundred years to reach a good part of the population. He even points out that “most ppl today live in the middle” but honestly, after so many years, I wonder how many hundred millions still live below the average. Bottomline: kinda makes me think how much of this singularity talk is sometimes used to dismiss the big problems humanity faces in the present.

    • Whatever Jay December 14, 2010 on 8:00 pm

      Half the population is below the average, in each and every metric. Pretty sure that’s what average means. So it’s not hundreds of millions, it’s billions.

      • Nick G Whatever December 14, 2010 on 8:40 pm

        Pretty sure that’s what “median” means.

        • Nick G Nick G December 14, 2010 on 8:43 pm

          let’s look at these these example salaries:

          1. $0/yr
          2. $120/yr
          3. $120/yr
          4. $120/yr
          5. $120/yr

          The average is $96. That’s a world I’d like to live in. 80% of the people make more than average 😉

  • Anonymous December 14, 2010 on 8:38 pm

    not to ruin it for you guys but the graphs are from http://www.gapminder.org/world/, go play with them for yourself, some interesting correlations can be made.
    i agree though, combined with a little aftereffects and a good commentary these graphs become more interesting to watch.

  • James Massa December 14, 2010 on 8:54 pm

    Had to ruin it with mention of green technology =(
    Technology is technology. Are we going to deny someone a better living because it isn’t labeled green? Sure, there are certain things that are very dangerous and destructive … but jumping to those extremes to try and win an arguement is falacy. And aid hasn’t helped as much as most people think. How does the old saying go; give a man a fish… ?

    • geekoid James Massa December 14, 2010 on 9:11 pm

      Some technologies are greener then others. Coal is not a green technology. In fact it’s a rather nasty one. No extreme needed.

      Aid has demonstrably helped. If a man starves to death while you teach him to fish, what’s the point?

    • Hawkeye James Massa December 14, 2010 on 9:25 pm

      But, by using more ‘green’ technology would that not improve the health of countries? People used to hand paint radioactive materials onto wrist watches so the watch faces would glow in the dark… It was a use of technology and it certainly aided people who just had to know what time it was in the middle of the night without turning their lights on, but did it promote a better living?

  • Geekoid December 14, 2010 on 9:08 pm

    40,000 is rich?

    • Antti Geekoid December 14, 2010 on 9:23 pm

      Compared to 400, yes.

  • Anonymous December 14, 2010 on 9:26 pm

    Pretty neat, uh?

  • Rebecca85 December 14, 2010 on 10:49 pm

    Interesting that he chose 1810 as the starting point. I see bias towards the UK 😐 because they had essentially gained the vast majority of their wealth from colonization, especially that from India (and China). Much of this wealth was stolen and populations left impoverished. It would be great to see where things started from, prior to colonization… however, still a good pictorial depiction.

    • Mrossi Rebecca85 December 15, 2010 on 1:38 am

      2010 minus 200 equals 1810 what is so interesting as a starting point for a 200 year review? What am I missing?

    • Hajamieli Rebecca85 December 15, 2010 on 2:26 am

      1810 is the starting point because they didn’t have any meaningful data for the statistics anywhere before that.

  • Asd December 15, 2010 on 10:50 am

    haha swenglish

  • Tom December 15, 2010 on 8:38 pm

    Nice. He just needs to put energy consumption per capita on another axis and factor the fact that we will soon be running low into his silly conclusions.

  • saadockenfels December 17, 2010 on 2:13 am

    D00De, You tiotally ROCK – We are so fortunate to have people like yourself in this world!

  • Saigawa December 17, 2010 on 8:51 pm

    I’m a fan of Rosling, but it looks like he made a mistake saying Shanghai’s GDPper cap is wqual to Italy’s. He is correctly using purchasing power parity (PPP) for these, but I looked up Italy at around $31,000 and Shanghai at around $21,000. At 9% growth, Shanghai and the entire East Coast of China should catch Italy and Japan in a few years, but not there yet.

  • harold forbes December 20, 2010 on 12:44 pm

    Bit scary that all that progress has been dependent on fossil fuels to provide the energy and natural capital to provide the “wealth”. If we want to continue with progress (and my vote does go to being wealthy and healthy), we need to replace that energy source pdq and start considering restocking oceans, protecting forests and bio-diversity and taking carbon out of the atmosphere as economic activities.

  • norobot January 4, 2013 on 7:18 pm

    i LIKE doing my laundry and taking out the garbage. What’s next, a robot to read a book for me? DUH…… to listen to music for me so i can watch its reactions, have sex for me, dance for me. might as well just catch the next glory train and boogie on out of here, or go watch all those hundreds of rhino robots in the Serengeti.