Computational Ecosystems: Tech-enabled Communities to Advance Human Values at Scale

Slides + Readings / Video / Older Video

Despite the continued development of individual technologies and processes for supporting human endeavors, major leaps in solving complex human problems will require advances in system-level thinking and orchestration. In this talk, I describe efforts to design, build, and study Computational Ecosystems that interweave community process, social structures, and intelligent systems to unite people and machines to solve complex problems and advance human values at scale. Computational ecosystems integrate various components to support ecosystem function; the interplay among components synergistically advances desired values and problem solving goals in ways that isolated technologies and processes cannot. Taking a systems approach to design, computational ecosystems emphasize (1) computational thinking to decompose and distribute problem solving to diverse people or machines most able to address them; and (2) ecological thinking to create sustainable processes and interactions that support jointly the goals of ecosystem members and proper ecosystem function.

I present examples of computational ecosystems designed to advance community-based planning and research training, that respectively engages thousands of people in planning an event and empowers a single faculty member to provide authentic research training to 20+ students. These solutions demonstrate how to combine wedges of human and machine competencies into integrative technology-supported, community-based solutions. I will preview what's ahead for computational ecosystems, and close with a few thoughts on the (potentially limited) role of computing technologies in advancing human values at scale.

Haoqi Zhang is an associate professor in Computer Science and Design at Northwestern University. His work advances the design of integrated socio-technical models that solve complex problems and advance human values. His research bridges the fields of Human-Computer Interaction, Artificial Intelligence, Social & Crowd Computing, Learning Science, and Decision Science, and is generously supported by grants from the National Science Foundation in Cyber-Human Systems, Cyberlearning (1, 2), and the Research Initiation Initiative; the Buffett Institute of Global Affairs; and the Center for Advancing Safety in Machine Intelligence.

Haoqi received his PhD in Computer Science and BA in Computer Science and Economics from Harvard University. At Northwestern he founded and directs the Design, Technology, and Research (DTR) program, which provides an original model for research training for over 100 graduate and undergraduate students. With Matt Easterday, Liz Gerber, and Nell O'Rourke, Haoqi co-directs the Delta Lab, an interdisciplinary research lab and design studio across computer science, learning science, and design.

headshot (hi-res)

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04/06/2022: Northwestern Institute of Complex Systems (NICO)
05/16/2018: Northwestern CS
01/30/2018: Berkeley BID Seminar
01/16/2018: Michigan School of Information
11/08/2017: Harvard EconCS/HCI Seminar
11/07/2017: MIT HCI Seminar
11/03/2017: CMU HCII Seminar
10/13/2017: Stanford Seminar on People, Computers and Design
10/12/2017: Microsoft Research Talk
10/11/2017: UW Dub Seminar
10/04/2017: UCSD Design@Large