U.S. Army funds a new discipline: Network Science

Published 25 November 2009

The U.S. Army gives Rensselaer Polytechnic in New York State $16.75 million to launch the Center for Social and Cognitive Networks; the new center 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

American researchers and social scientists armed with supercomputers and U.S. Army funds are working on creating “the new discipline of Network Science,” according to those involved. The new Center for Social and Cognitive Networks will be founded at Rensselaer Polytechnic in New York State.


Lewis Page writes that Rensselaer professors announced the $16.75 million in funds from the Army Research Laboratory. The new net lab will be headed up by Boleslaw Szymanski, the 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.”


Page writes that the Center 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 U.S. Army, which is expected to spend as much as $35.5 million on the research over the next ten years, will benefit hugely. To begin with, it will learn to manage and command itself more efficiently, as the researchers and sociologists and so analyze it in terms of a huge social information network composed of “mobile agents.” Then there is 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 Center will include the impact of “trust”, “human error” and “bias” on social networks. 
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