Paul Smart: Social Machines

Dr Paul Smart (University of Southampton) speaks at the Extended Knowledge conference, University of Edinburgh, 22-24 April 2015.

Abstract: A key trend in the recent technological evolution of the Web has been the development of applications and services that support greater levels of user participation in the generation and management of online content. This has given rise to what has been referred to as the ‘Social Web’: a suite of applications, services, technologies, formats, protocols and other resources, all united in their attempt to both foster and support social interaction and information exchange. At the heart of this Social Web are systems, such as YouTube, Wikipedia, Facebook and Twitter. These are among some of the most popular systems on the Web today. The rise of the Social Web has led to renewed interest in large-scale socio-technical systems, and a panoply of new terms have appeared to refer to parts of the emerging conceptual landscape. We thus have terms such as crowdsourcing, human computation, collective intelligence, social computing, the social operating system, the global brain, and social machines. The current talk will focus on the notion of social machines, although the relationship between social machines and other kinds of technology-mediated social participation system will be covered. Social machines can be seen as integrated systems that combine the representational and computational resources of both humans and machines, often at large scale. They provide a means for computing technologies to play an ever greater role in the moulding and (perhaps) the mechanistic realization of a variety of social processes, with significant implications for the shape of human society and the social agents that live within them. In addition, social machines act as a mutually-permeable cognitive frontier: they sit ready to re-define our collective cognitive and epistemic capabilities; however, they also enable machine-based processes to draw on human capabilities in new and interesting ways. The result is a potential transformation of our usual notions of machine intelligence, with human society serving to extend the cognitive reach of a variety of machine-based processes.