Archive for the ‘future’ Category

Should we hang out with people we don’t like

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

Homophily-based algorithms may not be good for us (previous post). Few points from the Guardian Week:

  • The faintly depressing human tendency to seek out and spend time with those most similar to us is known in social science as “homophily”, and it shapes our views, and our lives, in ways we’re barely aware of.
  • Technology, Zuckerman argues, risks making things worse: on the internet, most obviously, it’s possible to exist almost entirely within a feedback loop shaped by your own preferences
  • We long to have our opinions confirmed, not challenged, and thus, as the Harvard media researcher Ethan Zuckerman puts it, “Homophily causes ignorance.” (It also makes us more extreme, studies show: a group of conservatives, given the chance to discuss politics among themselves, will grow more conservative.)
  • The unspoken assumption here is that you know what you like – that satisfying your existing preferences, and maybe expanding them a little around the edges, is the path to fulfilment. But if happiness research has taught us anything, it’s that we’re terrible at predicting what will bring us pleasure. Might we end up happier by exposing ourselves more often to serendipity, or even, specifically, to the people and things we don’t think we’d like?

Someone is already at work: Ethan Zuckerman’s work toward a Serendipity Engine

Why tags don’t work always

Friday, February 13th, 2009

Interesting discussion on noisy tags towards the end .

Future work on reputation systems for mobiles: first-hand experiences or recommendations?

Friday, February 6th, 2009

Reputation systems on mobile phones build “reputation scores” based on personal experiences and on other phones’ recommendations. One poorly-explored research question is when to use personal experiences and when to resort to recommendations. This paper in Biology Letter may suggest few future research directions:

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Ideal Recommender Systems are dead, long live Surprise-Me Buttons

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

[Sometimes I paraphrese bits and pieces of this book's intro] How perfection killed recommender systems.


The market for news, entertainment, and information has been finally perfected. In 1995, Nicholas Negroponte prophesied the emergence of the Daily Me – a communication package that is personally designed, with each component fully chosen in advance. If recommender systems know a little about you, they can tell you what “people like you” tend to like – and they can create a Daily Me, just for you, in a matter of seconds.

Perfect! Not really. There are serious dangers in the Daily Me, serious problems to democracy. In his new book “Republic.com 2.0″, Cass Sunstein shows why.

The dark side of Social Computing
Sunstein says that a well-functioning system of free expression must meet two distinctive requirements:

1) People should be exposed to materials they wouldnot have chosen in advance.

2) Most citizens should have a range of common experiences.

If those two requirements aren’t satisfied, there are risks of
fragmentation and, more worryingly, of extremism. Recommender
systems allow their users to bypass general-purpose intermediaries
and restrict themselves to opinions and topics of their own choosing. If recommender systems were to be perfect, millions of people would listen to louder echoes of their own voices, they would find it hard to understand one another, and they would engage into extremism, which is produced by any situation in which like-minded people speak only with themselves.

How to satisfy those requirements? It’s important to maintain the
equivalent of “street corners” or “commons” where people are exposed to things quite involuntarily. There are many apparent “street
corners” in the Internet, but they are highly specialized, limited
to particular views. Lives should be structured so that people 1)
come across views and topics that they have not specifically
selected; and 2) share common experiences upon which to form a
social glue.

The case for Surprise-Me Buttons
Does all this call for a counter research agenda in social computing? One in which imperfect recommender systems (perhaps with surprise-me buttons) are more than welcome?

A Pitch on Future Recommender Systems

Thursday, November 27th, 2008

Yesterday I attended a workshop that was aimed at fostering research collaboration between our department and BSkyB. After a short introduction by the head of the department, a number of members of staff gave short (10 minute) pitches about their past and current research, and areas they are interested in for potential collaboration. The range of work being done in the department is huge- perhaps this deserves a post of its own.

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2 ubi apps: chat hotsposts and affective diary

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

A couple of cool applications from the Mobile Life Centre in Kista, Sweden

1. Ubiquitous chat hotspots
“Nicolas Belloni of Mobile Life shows an interesting app that uses your phone’s GPS system to create chat hotspots anywhere in the world. When you log in, the system knows where you are and, presumably, you can discuss local topics with friends and relations in that chat room. It’s still in beta, but it’s quite interesting, especially for tourists and international stalkers.” (pdf of Ubicomp workshop)

2. Affective Diary: Your computer knows you’re blue
A little project involving a PC-based application and a body sensor that tests galvanic skin response. When you’re excited, a little blob on the screen turns red and upright and when you’re relaxed the blob is blue and sleepy. The system allows you to watch a timeline of your blobs allowing you to see when and where you were most excited or agitated and even provides biofeedback. One tester found that she was most agitated when her son was leaving to go back to Paris. By noting this, she learned she could tell her son she missed him and feel much better after he left instead of holding it in and getting herself upset. It’s a very humanist – and friendly – approach to technology.

Check also this paper by Lars Erik Holmquist «Automated Journeys – Automated Connections?» (pdf)

Informal Networks from Movements

Saturday, October 11th, 2008

I’m looking for  academics/practionaires interested in the following research  and for companies willing to give me access to relevant data ;-) My website. My email: d.quercia@cs.ucl.ac.uk.

To facilitate the flow of information or to promote cultural change, companies often focus on formal organizational charts. Alas, those charts do not reveal the invisible networks that employees use to get things done. One way of identifying invisible networks is to keep track of how staff moves and, more specifically, “who talks to whom”. This can be done automatically by programming mobile phones to keep track of their owners’ location and proximity to other people.  By aggregating data on those phones, one  then produces “informal networks” and can harness them to:

  • Make change stick by identifying influential employees. If management can persuade influential people to be proponent of a big change, then the change is far more likely to succeed.
  • Focus on points in an informal network where relationships should be expanded or reduced. Imagine that, from its informal network, a company finds out that old personnel are extraordinary well-connected and central to collaboration, while many newcomers are stuck on the periphery. To fix the situation, the company may launch “mentoring programs” in which old personnel (central to collaboration) mentor newcomers. That is just one example of how the study of informal networks can break down barriers that hinder collaboration.
  • Measure the effectiveness of major initiatives. Informal networks are also a way for companies to measure the impact of changes. By measuring key network metrics (such as density, cohesion, and centrality) before and after a change, companies can asses whether the change has been a positive one. For example, if an informal network shows higher density after introducing a mentoring program, then the program has been a positive change in that it has reduced the number of steps for any individual to get in touch with a colleague.