CODAmagazine Changemaker: Nathan Myhrvold – How “The World’s Most Curious Human” Finds Art and Science In Data

Whether perfecting his photography, gathering information about how to make the best pizza, or challenging NASA experts about asteroid sizes, the Renaissance man’s passion for learning from and creating with data is shaping our world.

Genius, intellectual, polymath, savant–any of these words can partially describe Nathan Myhrvold. To understand him better, it is vital to appreciate his love of knowledge itself.

A 1997 article about the former Microsoft CTO in The New Yorker reveals a plaudit from Bill Gates: “I don’t know anyone I would say is smarter than Nathan, he stands out even in the Microsoft environment.” Myhrvold was still in his thirties at the time. He retired from the tech giant in 1999 and co-founded Intellectual Ventures, a company that manages patents and licensing. In a Bloomberg video report this year, journalist Ashlee Vance referred to Myhrvold as “the world’s most curious human.” Less than three weeks from now, Nathan Myhrvold will be addressing brilliant minds from various industries in Denver, Colorado for CODAsummit: The Intersection of Art, Technology and Place.

Gathering data is essential to his modus operandi. The most meaningful aspects of Myhrvold’s projects are connected to facts and numbers. He takes his time, making sure he has the most accurate information necessary for his experiments. Sometimes, he meets goals by creating new technology to assist him. Not long ago, he spent months building a special camera to photograph the highest-resolution images of snowflakes known to exist. Identifying and respecting the links between art, science, technology, and data, Myhrvold achieves much due to his understanding of research and the role data can play in outcomes.

Another noteworthy accomplishment is Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking, an award-winning book series which Myhrvold and a team of professionals collaborated on. Frequently ranked as a transformative cookbook, Modernist Cuisine was created with data collection activities such as taking photographs, studying food preparation techniques, visiting restaurants, and testing cooking equipment. The popularity of the books has altered how lots of people think about the culinary arts, and prompted the publication of more books in the Modernist Cuisine series, featuring fascinating data and exciting imagery. Consider that just the Modernist Pizza series spans three volumes, and includes over 1,700 pages and 3,700 photographs. Myhrvold, who has spoken to Martha Stewart about cooking and dined with the late Anthony Bourdain, is well-respected for his insights on food and his photography of it.

Science is also near and dear to Myhrvold’s heart. For years, he has challenged NASA to explain why data on the sizes of asteroids from the NEOWISE project and the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) space telescope is not making sense. Did you know Myhrvold has a Ph.D. from Princeton University in applied mathematics? Or that he and the late Stephen Hawking worked together at the University of Cambridge? Oh, and he also loves paleontology and has helped write academic papers about dinosaurs.

By continuously searching for answers and using data to make decisions, Nathan Myhrvold lives an extraordinary life. His contributions to multiple fields of art and science will be studied for a long time, and his remarkable curiosity enriches the lives of many. You can catch Myhrvold’s keynote address at CODAsummit on Friday, October 14th. Virtual tickets are also available for purchase.