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Social Computation: How to Conceptualize Society as a Giant Information Processing System?

Presenter: Martin Hilbert

Apr 27, 2017
from 12:00 PM to 01:00 PM

Kerr Hall 386

Presenter: Martin Hilbert

Title: Social Computation: How to Conceptualize Society as a Giant Information Processing System?

Abstract: Humans compute information and societies do too. We are not always sure what we compute, but the increasing merger of social and digital networks, of analog and digital footprints, of biological and artificial intelligence, shows us how naturally many tasks that were previously in the intangible domain of implicit human conduct, can readily be codified by explicit algorithms. If social entities processes information, and if an astonishing part of it can be taken up by digital technology, then the fundamental theories behind those technologies might also help us to understand how society communicates and computes information. I use basic concepts from information theory (which underlies all digital communication systems) and from theoretical computer science (which formalize the idea of routines and dynamic processes), and apply them to different aspects of social behavior. For one, this allows us to conceptualize social and technological information processing with one single and coherent framework. We can measure how much information is communicated from humans to algorithms and vice versa. Moreover, taking this perspective illustrates that society has always computed, even long before the digital age. Laws, routines, cultural habits, and prejudices and psychological biases can be conceptualized as algorithms and information channels. I hope that this perspective makes it easier to understand how we, as communication scholars, can research, guide, and shape the often intimidating and overwhelming developments of the digital revolution.

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