DIMACS 2004 - 2008 Special Focus on Computation and the Socio-Economic Sciences: Overview

Partnerships between mathematicians and social scientists have existed for a long time, but partnerships between computer scientists and social scientists are relatively new. In the past five years, they have begun to sprout and several important new fields of research are already thriving as a result. The topic of game theory and mechanism design has involved many leading computer scientists with economists and, as a result, for the first time many computer scientists are taking serious note of both the problems and the methods of economics. Analysis of the analogies between the growth of social networks and the development of the Internet have led to important insights about both areas and serious interactions between computer scientists and sociologists. Problems of metasearch have engaged computer scientists with political scientists and economists working on voting and social choice. We believe that the time is ripe to build on these early and exciting connections.

Partnerships between computer scientists and biologists are somewhat of a model for what we have in mind. These partnerships have flourished in the past 15 years. They have played a critical role in the human genome project, have led to a major emphasis on information processing in the biological organism, have spawned intriguing new areas of research in computer science such as DNA computing, and have contributed to major developments in tree reconstruction and pattern matching algorithms in computer science. In short, they have had a profound effect on both biology and computer science. There may not be a specific "big science'' challenge such as the human genome project in the case of computer science and the social sciences, but the opportunities for real and significant progress both in the computing and social sciences as a result of new interdisciplinary partnerships are upon us. In fact, the interaction between computer science and the social sciences is changing in dramatic ways that can be expected to have lasting impacts on both disciplines. Many applications in computer science and information technology (IT) involve issues and problems that social scientists (economists, political scientists, sociologists, psychologists and others) have addressed for years, issues of preference, utility, decision making, conflict and cooperation, incentives, auctions, bidding, consensus, social choice, and measurement; and the methods social scientists have developed for dealing with these issues and problems form an impressive toolkit. At the same time, with the widespread availability of today's powerful computers and new and exciting data sets, work in economics, political science, sociology and psychology that was only a theoretical possibility a few years ago is becoming a reality. Applying methods of social science to CS/IT problems requires new computational tools and the development of new variants of these methods. Applying computational methods to the solution of modern social science problems requires the development of new data structures, algorithms, and other tools that are in the domain of the computer scientist.

We have begun to see the use of methods developed by social scientists in a variety of IT applications. The requirements associated with these applications place great strain on the social science methods because of the sheer size of the problems addressed, issues involving computational power of agents, limitations on information possessed by players, and the sequential nature of repeated applications. Hence, there is a great need to develop a new generation of methods to satisfy these CS/IT requirements. In turn, these new methods will provide powerful new tools for social scientists. At the same time, great progress is being made on the problems traditionally of interest to social scientists through the use of new methods for finding patterns in data, searching through databases, computing solutions, and testing models.

This Special Focus seeks to develop the new "social-science-based" CS methodologies and to investigate their application to problems of information technology and to problems of the social sciences of fundamental importance to modern society. It also seeks to investigate computer science tools that are especially relevant to emerging problems of the socio-economic sciences. Research into issues of the type we envision requires new interdisciplinary partnerships among computer scientists, mathematicians, operations researchers, economists, experts in business applications, political scientists, psychologists, sociologists, and researchers specializing in the handling of information. We will build on the extensive interdisciplinary experience at DIMACS to bring together such interdisciplinary groups in the course of this special focus. DIMACS special foci on Mathematical Support for Molecular Biology (1994-2000) and Computational Molecular Biology (2000-2004) have played an important role in bringing computer and biological scientists together. This special focus is aimed at doing a similar thing.

Several major research themes span the Special Focus. They include:

Now would be an ideal time for this special focus. Leading computer scientists are seeking to learn and modify methods of the social sciences and are interacting with social scientists in increasingly sophisticated ways, while social scientists are more and more aware of the kinds of issues that are of central importance in computer science. Attendance at the early meetings organized around this kind of interface both at DIMACS and elsewhere has been large and enthusiastic and we are starting to see very serious research coming out of this interdisciplinary field. This should just be the beginning.

Opportunities to Participate: The Special Focus will include:

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Document last modified on February 16, 2007.