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'New discipline' of 'Network Science' birthed by US Army

Military to ensure the revolution will not be Twitterised

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Assorted American boffins and social scientists armed with supercomputers and US Army funds will come together to create "the new discipline of Network Science", according to those involved. The new Centre for Social and Cognitive Networks will be founded at Rensselaer Polytechnic in New York State.

Rensselaer profs were chuffed as ninepence to announce the $16.75m in funds from the Army Research Laboratory. The new social'n'cognitive net lab will be headed up by Boleslaw Szymanski, who rejoices in the title "Claire & Roland Schmitt Distinguished Professor of Computer Science" at the Polytechnic.

“We are creating the new discipline of network science,” said Szymanski. “The center will be in the leading position to define this new discipline in all its complexity. Rensselaer researchers are very pleased to be a leading part of this transformation.”

According to the Rensselaer statement:

The Center for Social and Cognitive Networks will link together top social scientists, neuroscientists, and cognitive scientists with leading physicists, computer scientists, mathematicians, and engineers in the search to uncover, model, understand, and foresee the complex social interactions that take place in today’s society. All aspects of social networks, from the origins of adversarial networks to gauging the level of trust within vast social networks, will be investigated within the center.

“The impact of our work will be far-reaching," says Szymanski.

"We are in an entirely new world where Twitter, cell phones, and wireless communication change the way we interact with each other. Together and with the support of the ARL, the researchers in the center will be able to investigate how technology enhances social interactions and how those technologies and relationships can be used to better measure and understand people’s interactions with each other.”

The Centre will apparently be able to draw on diverse resources, including the Rensselaer Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations (described as "one of the largest academic supercomputing centers in the world") and also "visualization and simulation capabilities" offered by the Institute's Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center.

The US Army, which is expected to spend as much as $35.5m on the research over the next 10 years, will apparently benefit hugely. To begin with, it will learn to manage and command itself more efficiently, as the boffins and sociologists and so analyse it in terms of a huge social information network composed of "mobile agents".

Then there's the matter of knowing the enemy - the "adversarial network". According to Rensselaer spokespersons:

This research has important implications for the Army in dealing with terrorists and other hidden groups within a society. The research will seek ways to monitor the activities of adversary networks, to map the composition and hierarchy of the network, and to understand their dynamics and evolution over time. The work will bring together expertise ranging from computer science to game theory.

“Adversary networks can be discovered very early in their development by careful social network analysis,” Szymanski said. “Studying the technologies they use and how they use them will allow us to act well before the adversary network has reached maturity. This will greatly minimize their impact within their society as well as our own.”

Other areas of interest for the new Centre will include the impact of "trust", "human error" and "bias" on social networks.

There's more from Rensselaer here. ®

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