Synthetic Social Interaction

Some of my early research in grad school focused on applying ideas from social construction to multiagent systems. In social construction, an individual experiences society both as an objective reality, in that society dictates certain norms and patterns to the individual, and as a subjective reality, in that the individual’s actions work to definet the nature of the society of which he or she is a member. Thus, the individual enters into a dialectic process of mutual definition with society.

I also did some more theoretically motivated work looking at connections between emergence and abstraction. This work centers around the study of emergent phenomena in social systems and the premise that, in social systems, the process of emergence is intrinsically linked with the process of abstraction. By emergence, we mean the process of beginning with simple rules and generating complex phenomena that emerge from those rules but are not explicitly described in those rules. By abstraction, we mean the process of beginning with a set of complex phenomena and creating a set of simple rules that describe the phenomena. Thus, we can see that emergence and abstraction move in opposite directions along a continuum of complexity. Moreover, in the case of societies, the two processes mutually inform one another. The abstractions an individual agent makes about the social interactions it observes and in which it participates will serve to guide its future interactions, thus influencing what patterns emerge. As the agent interacts with other members of the society, complex social structures emerge, which then serve to influence what abstractions the individual agent makes. Thus, there is a feedback cycle, an abstraction-emergence loop, that contributes to the formation of complex structures of social interaction.