Inside Rensselaer
Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center Grand Opening May 4

On May 4, Rensselaer will celebrate the opening of a new interdisciplinary research center devoted to social and cognitive networks. The Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center — funded with $16.75 million from the Army Research Laboratory — will engage top scientists in an investigation of complex social interactions enabled by modern technology.

The new center will host a grand opening in the auditorium of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies. The program includes welcoming remarks beginning at 9:15 a.m., a virtual tour of facilities, a scientific session with distinguished lecturers, and a poster session.

Center Director — and the Claire and Roland Schmitt Distinguished Professor at Rensselaer — Boleslaw Szymanski said that the center will study both fundamental network structures and how those structures are altered by technology.

“Today’s computer technology is both the enabler of new social interactions and the tool for observing and measuring them. These interactions make societies more diverse and more dynamic and they increase the global impact of small focused groups, creating both new opportunities and new dangers.”

“We are in an entirely new world where Twitter, cell phones, and wireless communication change the way we interact with each other,” said Szymanski. “Together 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 can be used to better measure and understand people’s interactions with each other.”

“Today’s computer technology is both the enabler of new social interactions and the tool for observing and measuring them,” Szymanski said. “These interactions make societies more diverse and more dynamic and they increase the global impact of small focused groups, creating both new opportunities and new dangers.”

One area of study (there are five) has important implications for the Army in dealing with terrorists and other hidden groups within a society, Szymanski said. The study of so-called “adversary networks” may reveal effective methods of monitoring adversarial groups, mapping their composition and hierarchy and their evolution over time.

“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.”

The grand opening will start with welcoming remarks by President Shirley Ann Jackson and Jeffrey Hansberger of the Army Research Laboratory. Speakers in the scientific session will include Szymanski, Albert-László Barabási of Northwestern University, Alex Paul Pentland of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Alessandro Vespignani of the University of Indiana.

The center is a collaborative effort, linking Rensselaer with corporate and academic partners, such as IBM Corp., Harvard University, and MIT, as well as other Centers in the Network Science Collaborative Alliance. Within the center, the investigations will involve over 30 researchers including social scientists, neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, physicists, computer scientists, mathematicians, and engineers.

For more information and to RSVP for the event, go to www.rpi.edu/research/arl.

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Inside Rensselaer, Strategic Communications and External Relations
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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 4, Number 7, April 16, 2010
©2010 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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