1 Computational Social Science – Jay van Zyl

Computational Social Science

As we accelerate into the world of commercial machine learning and artificial intelligence, we once again find ourselves discussing technology hype. We have to be reminded that each wave of new inventions create benefits​ that are not always quantifiable immediately. If we look back at 1800’s during the Industrial Revolution or we try to understand the early days of commercial flight or the invention and widespread deployment of the motor vehicle, let alone the 80s and 90s when it comes to public access to computing; one sees that the emergence of new platforms are almost inevitable as humans collaborate more and share the world’s intellect. Each wave brings its own set of tools that are closely interlocked with the human psyche of that period.

The social science behind how these new ideas and inventions proliferate is really worth considering. You need to figure out your role and your place in this world of change. There are two schools of thought competing with each other creating social tension that is needed to make these new ideas flourish: One group is facing backwards trying to remember how great the world used to be in some distant past. Then there is another group that is facing into the future, and they try to make sense of all of the current And future trends that could make the more successful. But as we know most people will make decisions without considering many facts and figures and real inferences. Just considering what’s happening in politics today where politicians can make outrageous claims and even contradict scientific findings, and still continue to get the support of certain communities. This strong interplay between the memory of the past and the vision of the future is something all leaders should consider when defining their own journey.

But the world we are moving into might look different. Never before as we enter the face where we’ve got access too so much computational power and human behaviour all data to exploit. This world where the obsessive storage of data about all of the human existence is exposed to any interested party anywhere in the world, is changing our perspective of competition. This ability coupled with almost unlimited access to computational power is changing our understanding of where we fit in the overall landscape. In recent times we’ve seen the re-emergence of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and sub-market or ecosystem classifications, for example fintec, edtech, meditec, etc. This reemergence is field by the access we have to new an improved efficient platforms. Alongside these platforms, Humans have become data collection and consumption machines that can be broadly manipulated by means of intelligent algorithms. The proliferation of these algorithms probably will not take the same shape as in the previous computing generation.

It’s not just about glass anymore, it’s about using all our senses starting with voice and sight. For example this entire post was dictated on my Google Pixel as I see the words appear in my online editor… The Intelligent algorithm figures out the structure of the sentences, the grammar that’s most appropriate and sorting out the punctuation. Furthermore the algorithm has been trying to ignore the sound of Birds and traffic, the background music playing inside my office and the people talking in the distance. It’s solely focused on the words coming from my mouth. This basic capability would not have been possible in recent years.

The one social driver to understand is, random novelty. Novelty is a fairly complex phenomena and I do not wish to talk much about it here, but we have to remember that there are millions of people scattered all over the world that are interested in creating new commercially viable ideas. Novelty is cleverly used by almost all digital and Technology Innovation focused companies to create addiction. It’s the primary purpose of a digital business to create consistent and recurrent client interaction in such a way that maximum benefit can be extracted. We have been educated by the multitude of technologies around us that learned behaviour is the basic entry point. The result is that we become more and more addicted to the incredibly simple and basic responses that are being provided by these various semi intelligent machines around us. The reality is that there are still certain large telecommunications companies, Banks, insurance providers, medical practitioners, financial providers, etc that believe that this trend is not going to have a profound impact on their future. The old days of dumb digital glass will be replaced by intelligent multi-sensory inventions. Believing that creating a mobile app or a well-designed web frontend will make you competitive places you squarely in the rearward facing competitive group.

We have to live with each wave of social Hype as we try to understand the ecosystem’s absorptive capacity for new inventions. Living with this change means that your ability to move with the tight interface between technological invention and social change is probably the only thing that will separate you as a competitive organism in the future.

We all live in a complex interplay of networks that shape our existence.

This view of living organisms allow us to take the data we collect and construct computational models never thought possible before. The advancement of Computational Social Science as a field that explores the human and related behaviors in the new world, is opening up entirely new avenues to driving innovation.