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Rick  Smolan

Rick Smolan

Photographer & Big Data Expert

Rick Smolan

Photographer & Big Data Expert


Rick Smolan is a former Time, Life and National Geographic photographer best known as the creator of the Day in the Life book series – the bestselling photo books that captured life in America, Japan, Australia, the Soviet Union and other countries in the '80s – as well as America 24/7.

As CEO of Against All Odds Productions, Smolan's projects focus on capturing the human face of emerging topics and specialize in the design and execution of large-scale crowdsourced global projects that combine compelling storytelling with state-of-the-art technology.

His projects result in bestselling illustrated books, TV specials, apps, exhibits and hundreds of millions of media impressions – including New York Times bestsellers and cross-media projects that have been featured on the covers of publications around the globe (i.e. Time, GEO, Fortune, Stern, and The London Sunday Times). More than five million of his books adorn coffee tables around the world, including A Day in the Life of America, The Human Face of Big Data, INSIDE TRACKS, American 24/7, 24 Hours in Cyberspace, The Power to Heal, One Digital Day, From Alice to Ocean, and Blue Planet Run.

Smolan’s book From Alice to Ocean (2013) is based on a National Geographic cover story that he photographed about Robyn Davidson, a young Australian woman who traveled solo across the Australia outback accompanied only by camels and her loyal dog, Digitty. Her adventure is considered one of the five most memorable stories in National Geographic's 125-year history. Davidson’s narrative of her trip, Tracks, became a classic and bestseller. The book has now been turned into a film by the Oscar Winning producers of The Kings Speech, starring Mia Wasikowska as Davidson and Adam Driver as Smolan. The movie premiered to glowing reviews at the recent Venice, Telluride and Toronto Film festivals and was released in the U.S. by the Weinstein Brothers in September 2014.

Smolan’s most recent project was The Human Face of Big Data, which looks at how all of our devices are creating a planetary nervous system and that the massive gathering and analyzing of data in real time is suddenly allowing us to address some of humanity’s biggest challenges, including pollution, world hunger and illness. On December 4, 2012, the book was delivered to 10,000 world leaders, Fortune 500 CEOs, heads of media companies, Oscar, Pulitzer Prize and Olympic winners, and other notable figures in 50 countries around the world.

The Human Face of Big Data book was a best seller and to date has sold more than 55,000 copies. The TED book club also chose the book as one of their official selections and sent a copy to all 1700 TED attendees. Last year, the “Human Face” iPad app won the WEBBY for best educational app, Apple featured it on the front page of 42 of its App stores around the world and Adweek awarded it the “Tablet App of the Year.” Additionally, the one-hour documentary based on the project recently won The Boston Film Festival’s “Best Cinematography Award.”

Smolan’s newest best-seller called The Good Fight: America’s Ongoing Struggle for Justice, vividly depicts America’s long struggle with the fight for equality. Smolan created the book with the goal to remind readers of the many battles Americans have fought over the past 100 years against hatred, bigotry, racism, misogyny, and homophobia — and how much of this progress is at risk right now. The Good Fight became one of Amazon’s top 100 books within a week of release, and was recently chosen as the official TED BOOKCLUB selection. People Magazine also added the book to its list of the top 10 best gift books of the year. Smolan’s book also comes with the free Good Fight Viewer app, which adds an interactive photography experience to the text.

Now having spent more than two years immersed in the world of Big Data and speaking with dozens of the scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs pioneering this space, Smolan is convinced Big Data is going to have 1,000 times more of an impact on our lives than the Internet. In his presentations, he seeks to connect and visualize Big Data into meaningful ways where the human race can have an entirely new set of tools to use in shaping the future. From his "Day in the Life" photography series to his current projects, Rick Smolan is a force for exploring culture in unique ways.

Speaker Videos

TEDx: Inside Tracks: Alone Across the Outback

"The Good Fight" highlights battle for equality in America

The Helpfulness of Big Data

TEDx: The Good Fight

TED: A Girl, A Photograph, A Homecoming

The Human Face of Big Data

Speech Topics

The Human Face of Big Data and The Internet of Things

With the rapid growth of Internet-connected devices and sensors, an unstoppable, invisible force has begun changing human behavior in ways from the microscopic to the gargantuan.  Billions of interconnected devices are generating tremendous amounts of "Big Data", a word that was barely used a few years ago but which now affects almost every aspect of our lives, from the moment we first awaken to the extinguishing of the final late-evening light bulb.

In his evocative talk, #1 New York Times best-selling author and journalist Rick Smolan puts a human face on the worlds of Big Data and the emerging Internet of Things. His visually rich talk (Smolan is a former Time Life and National Geographic photographer) Rick explores how the real-time visualization of data streaming in from satellites, billions of sensors, GPS-enabled cameras and smartphones is beginning to enable us, as individuals and collectively as a society, to sense, measure and understand aspects of our existence in ways never possible before.

The premise of his presentation is that all of these devices are creating a planetary nervous system and that the massive real time gathering and analyzing of data is suddenly allowing us to address to some of humanity’s biggest challenges, including pollution, world hunger, and illness.

But as Edward Snowden and the release of the NSA documents has shown, the collection and ability to access all this data comes with a tradeoff. Each of us is now generating an indelible digital trail that will remain forever in our wake. At the moment, it's primarily governments and corporations who are focusing on Big Data while most 'mere mortals' are not involved in the conversation.  As a result decisions, algorithms and laws are being put in place that are going to affect every person on earth in the near future while most of us are not paying attention.

Smolan shares insights resulting from nearly two years of research and filming and via interviews conducted with dozens of the scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs pioneering this space.  His talk clearly illustrates both the promise and peril in the growing big data and connected device revolution, a sea change which many experts believe will have a thousand times greater impact on our lives than the Internet.

Smolan's Human Face of Big Data project includes a best-selling coffee table book which was delivered to 10,000 world leaders and key influencers on a single day, an iPad app which won the WEBBY for best educational tablet app, plus a one-hour TV special being broadcast in 25 countries this year which won the award for best cinematography at the prestigious Boston Film Festival.

The Good Fight: America's Ongoing Struggle for Justice

This keynote vividly depicts the human face of America's sporadically violent, often triumphant, always risky struggle to fulfill the promise of freedom and equality for all. Fought in the streets, the courthouse, and the corridors of Congress, it is a story that has become America's own morality play, illustrated through more than 180 memorable photographs, nearly 60 embedded videos, over a dozen compelling essays plus examples of music and lyrics that rallied America's resistance to injustice. For those who wish to eradicate bigotry and intolerance in America, THE GOOD FIGHT is a call to action. It shows us how much we as a nation have accomplished; it also reminds us of the fragility of our success and how quickly this hard-fought progress can slip away if we do not remain vigilant. With hatred racism and injustice dominating the conversation across dinner tables and board rooms right now, this might be just the right speech to help put what America is experiencing right now into historical perspective.

Day in the Life