Steven Wolfram and team have gathered together a big timeline of key events in the history of systematic data and computable knowledge. The team has created a beautiful infographic and a five foot long poster available for mail order (I just bought one, $15 with shipping) in anticipation of the Wolfram Data Summit in DC early next month. We're really at the dawn of a whole new age of data creation, so this timeline will likely look like pre-history relatively soon, but it's fascinating and important none the less.

"[When] I first looked at the completed timeline," Wolfram writes, "the first thing that struck me was how much two entities stood out in their contributions: ancient Babylon, and the United States government... [It] is sobering to see how long the road to where we are today has been. But it is exciting to see how much further modern technology has already made it possible for us to go."


Above: Click to view full timeline.

Wolfram argues that Artificial Intelligence has languished over the years, but that the body of data that's become available for computation has exploded. "[We] can just start from the whole corpus of systematic knowledge and data - as well as methods and models and algorithms - that our civilization has accumulated, poured wholesale into our computational system... this is what we have done with Wolfram|Alpha: in effect making immediate direct use of the whole rich history portrayed in the timeline."

We've written here for several years about the explosion of data production that's beginning and will be a major factor in determining the nature of human civilization in the near-term. In terms of sheer quantity, far more will be made measurable in the next few years than has been instrumented by any of the other developments on Wolfram's timeline. Google's Marissa Mayer calls the coming Internet of Things "bigger than Moore's law." Former HP CEO Mark Hurd said in 2009: "more data will be created in the next four years than in the history of the planet."

What will we do with all that data? That's up to us as a society, but it's a good idea to see it coming and look at it within a historical context.