The past 15 years have witnessed a remarkable increase in both the scale and scope of social and behavioral data available to researchers, leading some to herald the emergence of a new field: “computational social science.” Against these exciting developments stands a stubborn fact: that in spite of many thousands of published papers, there has been surprisingly little progress on the “big” questions that motivated the field in the first place—questions concerning systemic risk in financial systems, problem solving in complex organizations, and the dynamics of epidemics or social movements, among others. In this talk I highlight some examples of research that would not have been possible just a handful of years ago and that illustrate the promise of CSS. At the same time, they illustrate its limitations. I then conclude with some thoughts on how CSS can bridge the gap between its current state and its potential.
Duncan Watts is a principal researcher at Microsoft Research and a founding member of the MSR-NYC lab. He is also an AD White Professor at Large at Cornell University. Prior to joining MSR in 2012, he was a Professor of Sociology at Columbia University from 2000-2007, and then a principal research scientist at Yahoo! Research, where he directed the Human Social Dynamics group. He is also the author of three books: Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age (W.W. Norton, 2003) and Small Worlds: The Dynamics of Networks between Order and Randomness (Princeton University Press, 1999), and most recently Everything is Obvious: Once You Know The Answer (Crown Business, 2011) Watts holds a B.Sc. in Physics from the Australian Defence Force Academy, from which he also received his officer’s commission in the Royal Australian Navy, and a Ph.D. in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics from Cornell University.