Carnegie Mellon Societal Computing PhD Program
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Carnegie Mellon Societal Computing PhD Program

We’re surrounded by great computing
technologies that have enormous impact on our lives and enable us to do things
unimaginable just a few years ago. They also change us. They change how we live, what information we see, and how we
interact with each other. What’s the impact of these technologies
on society? Are they having the effects we want? Are there unintended
consequences? There are a lot of critical societal problems that computer science can really play an important role in helping us solve. You know, things like
children with not enough to eat things like people moving from country to
country and not having a place to live. And we try to solve those, traditionally,
by just building new technology New technology is not sufficient. You really have to understand what’s going on in those environments culturally, socially,
economically, politically, both to make technology that makes a difference and
to resolve the problem. Students in our Societal Computing PhD program are
taking on these challenges. They’re doing critical research that’s changing the
world. They’re asking the right questions and applying machine learning, statistics,
and network analysis techniques to find answers. They’re designing algorithms and
systems and deploying them in the world to expand our notion of what’s possible. So, right now, increasingly we’re seeing
automation. We’re seeing situations where people depend more on computing to work
in the way that they expect. What we need are people who understand the complexity of the algorithms that are being used, but people who are also sensitive to the
societal needs that people have, as individuals, to make sure
that software doesn’t harm people, doesn’t disenfranchise people and so on. Well, I think privacy is something that most people value. And it’s not always
obvious when it is slowly eroding. I think it’s really important that that
we’re we’re paying attention, that we are considering the privacy issues as we
develop these new services and tools and think about ways
that we can offer these great tools while at the same time protecting
people’s privacy. These new modes of production where people independently just create dependencies use things and produce new stuff in this unmanaged way:
It’s great for productivity. It’s been fantastic for creating good things
quickly. But we don’t really understand the kinds of risks it’s creating or the ways we can manage it better. one of the issues that is really very close to my heart is: How can we, as individuals, keep up with the complexity of data flows that we
interact with during the course of our daily lives. The challenge, obviously, is that because
of the variety of scenarios that we interact with, because the variety of
services that we interact with, and they’re very complex privacy policies, it
is absolutely impossible for a regular human being to actually keep up with
that level of complexity. We actually have a huge project right now on
identifying members who are ISIS supporters online, so that we can
identify these kind of extremist groups who are members of them, identify what
their propaganda is, and help design and influence counter-messaging strategy to
reduce the overall threat. One of the projects that we’re doing in the space of applied systems is on smart buildings. The essential idea is: How do we
make our buildings – the current buildings that we have – that aren’t very smart much
more performative and much more efficient by turning them into
programmable systems just like you have a computer system today. Their preparation at Carnegie Mellon has enabled our students to take leadership
roles; taking academic positions at leading universities like Harvard,
Berkeley, Vanderbilt, UC San Diego, West Point, KAIST in South Korea,
Peking University in China. They’re doing groundbreaking research at companies like Google, IBM, and Microsoft. And they’re joining and starting their own
ventures to deploy new technologies in the world. So, the student who would
flourish in our societal computing program is somebody who has a deeply
technical background interest but they realize they’re missing something they’re not just satisfied with additional computer science education.
They almost always have some other burning interest as well whether it’s in
privacy or whether it’s in network analysis or in policy. They should have a deep interest in one or more of the many different social sciences. They combine this deep technical interest with some practical or applied sphere and bringing
those together in Societal Computing has worked out really well for them. Students who are interested in going out
there and solving societal problems using their technical skills, those
are the students we’re looking for. ok yeah

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