DBMI Open Insights – 3/15

Department of Biomedical Informatics – Open Insights Seminar Series
March 15 | 12:30pm | Lahey Room (5th Floor) | Countway Library

Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD, MPH
Co-Director of Yale Institute for Network Science
Sol Goldman Family Professor of Social and Natural Science, Yale University
Social Network Interventions: Large-Scale Experiments from Global Health to Online AI-Bots

Human beings choose their friends, and often their neighbors, and co-workers, and we inherit our relatives; and each of the people to whom we are connected also does the same, such that, in the end, we humans assemble ourselves into face-to-face social networks.  Why do we do this?  And how might a deep understanding of human social network structure and function be used to intervene in the world to make it better?  Here, I review recent research from our lab describing three classes of interventions involving both offline and online networks that can help make the world better: (1) interventions that rewire the connections between people; (2) interventions that manipulate social contagion, facilitating the flow of desirable properties within groups; and (3) interventions that manipulate the position of groups of people within network structures.  I will illustrate what can be done using a variety of experiments in settings as diverse as fostering cooperation in networked groups online, to fostering health behavior change in developing world villages, to facilitating the diffusion of innovation or coordination in groups.  I will also focus on recent experiments with “hybrid systems” comprised of both humans and “dumb bots,” involving simple artificial intelligence (AI) agents interacting in small groups.  By taking account of people’s structural embeddedness in social networks, and by understanding social influence, it is possible to intervene in social systems to enhance desirable population-level properties as diverse as health, wealth, cooperation, coordination, and learning.