Computational Research at the Forefront

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The use of so-called big data has captured the imagination of the public and a growing share of the academic community, but what are some of the specific research outputs that social and behavioral scientists have revealed that weren’t discover-able before the advent of computational social science?

This video, the third in a series of four videos synthesizing some of the important themes covered at 2016’s second International Conference on Computational Social Science, or IC2S2, offers five examples to demonstrate the power of computational social science (CSS).

In it, five researchers discuss their particular work and outline both the ways that new technology and innovative analysis can answer nettlesome – and in some case, vital – questions of paramount interest in government and industry.

For example, there is the presentation by Michael Kearns, the National Center Chair in the Department of Computer and Information Science at the University of Pennsylvania. He looks at ways to preserve individual privacy in an era where fighting terrorism is a national priority. After the Edward Snowden revelations, he notes, the White House put the question to experts: “were there technological alternatives they could use to balance the counterterrorism efforts of [national security] agencies with some privacy protections for individual citizens?”

His short answer at the time the question was first posed was ‘no.’ But by deploying CSS, perhaps that needle could be threaded … As he explains, “I think maybe the most important thing about this work is not the technical result, but just showing that there are at least some circumstances in which you can have some sort of sensible balance between an effective mission, and still provide a promising individual privacy.”

Sandra Gonzalez Bailón of the University of Pennsylvania, who – in examining collective behavior — details both the utility of the today’s tools and the importance of answering the wicked problems we can finally grapple with. “For a long time,” her talk begins, “the study of collective behavior and its significance for dynamics of change were seriously limited by the absence of appropriate empirical data. ….This is what digital technology has finally changed, and this is the reason why we have conferences like this.”

She continues by stressing that the analysis and the answers exceed the constraints of individual inquiries. “Even if you’re not interested in political mobilizations as I am, you might be interested in the broader theme of how network science and the many tools it has to offer can improve our understanding of social dynamics.”

Other speakers appearing include Markus Strohmaier of the University of Koblenz-Landau on bias on Wikipedia; Microsoft’s Shawndra Hill on researching TV viewing and online behavior; and Harvard’s Sendhil Mullainathan discussing the benefits of machine learning for decision makers.

The annual IC2S2, hosted by the Kellogg School of Management in 2016, convenes interdisciplinary researchers to discover, discuss, and collaborate at the intersection of data science and social science. This video is a sample of what IC2S2 attendees experience during this multi-day event. The third IC2S2 conference is currently taking place in Cologne, Germany through July 13. For more information, visit

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