Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Avatars, Computer Modeling, and Networks

I always say that one of the best things about travel is the people that you (might) meet. My most recent trip (about which I have also blogged about) was to give an invited talk at the Social Theory and Social Computing: Steps to Integration Workshop that took place May 22-23, 2010 in gorgeous Honolulu, Hawaii. Not only was the venue perfect but the talks at this workshop were stimulating, thought-provoking, and at, times,, may I say, somewhat controversial. The passion for research was obvious among the speakers and what I appreciated tremendously was the interdisciplinary focus of the research that was presented.

Let me say, that the organizers and the speakers at this workshop have the courage to break through disciplinary boundaries because that is the best way to create new synergies and to stimulate new discoveries. Doing business, as usual, will not yield innovations.

At the workshop, I had the pleasure of meeting (among other fascinating individuals) Professor Barry Silverman, who combines systems engineering (and actually told me that he was also trained in operations research) with behavioral science, and is a Professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

Lo and behold, last Sunday, right on the first page of The Boston Globe, was a feature article on the research that Professor Silverman is conducting under the provocative title: Knowing the Enemy, One Avatar at a Time. The article discussed his research on the computer modeling of villagers in Afghanistan, which has attracted a lot of funding support but also a bit of controversy (any research that goes against the grain is bound to be challenged).

More information about the workshop at which Professor Silverman spoke can be found here and his presentation may be downloaded (if you are impatient) here.

You can read more about Professor Silverman's research as well as the complementary research of Professor Kathleen Carley of CMU (who I have had the pleasure of meeting several times) in an earlier article on the types of networks that they study in the IEEE Spectrum.

The above group photo was taken at the Hawaii workshop. Professor Silverman is the tallest standing in the back row wearing a Hawaiian shirt.