Collective intelligence, diversity, and social networks

Originally published as “Hold that thought”
(Part 5 of “TechCrunch, disrupted”)

The day after TechCrunch Disrupt ended, a fascinating study on “collective intelligence” led by Anita Woolley of Carnegie Mellon University appeared in Science.   The researchers found that a group’s success in solving problems wasn’t correlated to the average intelligence of the group, or the IQ of the smartest person.  Instead, it was related to “social sensitivity”, whether everybody got to participate in the discussions, and the number of women in the group.

The article’s behind a paywall, but Malicia Rogue’s On savvy and groups discusses it in detail and provides a lot of background.  There’s an excellent discussion on GeekFeminism, a podcast on CBC, and good articles in National Geographic, NPR, Science Daily, and The Globe and Mail.

Nobody mentioned it in the press coverage, but these results also align with Scott Page’s underlying model of the value of cognitive diversity in problem solving. Diversity = Productivity summarizes Scott’s work showing why diverse teams perform better than individual experts or even teams of experts — if they can work together effectively, that is.*   So while there’s a lot more to discuss about this study, for now let’s just accept its results at face value and hypothesize that they apply to larger teams as well.

Now consider a group that we’ll call “TechCrunch and friends”.  How effective would we expect them to be at problem solving?
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Ethnographic observations and you!

An as-yet-unnamed potential startup company is planning to develop some revolutionary software that relates to how people work together.  One of our first steps is to set set up a research community and making some ethnographic observations — in other words, getting an understanding of how people work today.  We’re especially trying to get a diverse set of participants: not just techies, not just straight white guys, not just Microsoft-related people.

At the end of the first round of observations, we’ll provide all the participants with a summary of our findings.  And as a way of showing our appreciation, we’ll also give each participant a free copy of our first product once it’s available.

Interested in being a part of it?

To start with, we’d like to spend about half an hour on the phone with you interviewing you about your experienes related to meetings.  We’re very early on in our thinking about product lines, so it’s important for us to hear a lot of different perspectives.   We’ll also ask you to spend a couple of minutes online after the meeting: quickly double-checking our notes, filling out a quick survey, and sharing any additional thoughts.

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Creating the future: Computers, Freedom, and Privacy 2009

CFP logo

From conference co-chairs Cindy Southworth and Jay Stanley’s Call for presentations, tutorials, and workshops:

The 19th annual Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference is now accepting proposals for panels, workshop sessions, and other events.

CFP is the leading policy conference exploring the impact of the Internet, computers and communications technologies on society. It will be taking place in June 2009, just months into a brand new U.S. administration — an exciting moment in history, as we look into the future and ask, “Where do we go from here?” For more than a decade, CFP has anticipated policy trends and issues and has shaped the public debate on the future of privacy and freedom in an ever more technology-filled world. CFP focuses on topics such as freedom of speech, privacy, intellectual property, cybersecurity, telecommunications, electronic democracy, digital rights and responsibilities, and the future of technologies and their implications.

We are requesting proposals and ideas for panels, plenaries, debates, keynote speakers, and other sessions that will address these and related topics and how we can shape public policy and the public debate on these topics as we create the future.

More information, and a link to the submission form, here.  The submission deadline is December 19 January 23.

CFP has always been a meeting ground for different perspectives: academics, privacy advocates, corporate types, government, activists, and at times hackers and students.  The quality of presentations is high, and there’s a good mix between big names and “not the usual suspects”.   Washington DC, six months into a new administration that’s being described as “the first internet presidency”, with privacy and civil liberties issues on the table … it should be a particularly good year!

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danah boyd joins Microsoft Research — computer science *is* a social science

Guess who has a post-dissertation job? [Yes, that implies I’m actually going to finish this *#$@! dissertation.] ::bounce:: In January, I will be joining the newly minted Microsoft Research New England in Boston, MA. w00000t!!!!! I couldn’t be more ecstatic.

— danah boyd, I will be joining Microsoft Research in January, apophenia, September 2008

Breaking through barriers is what research is all about. We’re going to New England to break through barriers between core computer science and social sciences, and to do fundamental research that can lead to deeper insights and better computing experiences in an increasingly online world.”

—   Jennifer Chayes, Managing Director, Microsoft Research’s newly-opened New England lab, September 2008

OK, maybe this is obvious to everybody outside the field of computer science; but within the field, we are in the process of a major paradigm shift — when I get excited, I describe it as a Kuhnian “scientific revolution in progress”, which might be stretching things, but just a little.  Computer scientists have historically identified either as mathematicians (ah, the purity) or physicists (pretty good purity and much better government funding); but if you look at the kinds of problems we are trying to solve now (bunches of different aspects of the security problem, privacy, usability of pervasive computers, changing business models, e-voting) it seems pretty clear that the key issues relate to people and the way they communicate and organize themselves, rather than discovering the underlying physical laws of the universe — in short, the domain of social sciences.

— Jon Pincus, Computer science is really a social science (draft), BillG ThinkWeek paper, January 2005

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Vegas, baby! Iron Chef Black Hat

Draft posted August 14. Substantially revised August 17.

The second of a two-part series on the Black Hat USA 2008 security conference.

Image of Caeser's Palace from Black Hat site

Back when we lived in San Francisco in the 1990s, we were huge fans of Fuji TV’s Iron Chef, then shown with subtitles on a local cable station. When local chef Ron Siegel repeated his winning “lobster confront” menu at Charles Nob Hill, word got leaked to the Iron Chef mailing list and we managed to get seats … wow! And I’ll never forget the time that Bobby Flay in his exuberance jumped on the sushi board; so of course when I was at Caesar’s I had to have lunch at his Mesa Grill.

Iron Chef is also a good lens to looking at Black Hat from the perspective of the consulting I’m doing for San Francisco-based startup Coverity. This gives a completely different picture of the conference than the political and front-page-news of Vegas Baby! Black Hat, glitter, and pwnies. It’s just as interesting though, thanks in no small part to Fortify’s Iron Chef Black Hat.

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Vegas, baby! Black Hat, glitter, and pwnies

The first of a two-part series on the Black Hat USA 2008 security conference.

Image of Caeser's Palace from Black Hat site

Vegas, baby!

Continuing my tradition, I was in Las Vegas for Black Hat but didn’t attend the conference proper. My brother was able to come up from LA to meet me, so I decided to hang out with him instead — Vegas, baby!

This meant my Black Hat “attendance” was mostly networking at a couple of parties. Which certainly gives an interesting perspective on the conference ... in these more social settings, discussions are wide-ranging and informal, and there are opportunities for all kinds of different connections. Sites like Infoworld, Wired’sThreat Level , and Microsoft’s Ecostrat blog have great coverage of what happened during the sessions at Black Hat and Defcon, and are well worth checking out. Here’s my idiosyncratic view.

Kevin McLaughlin’s Learn From Lincoln, Says U.S. Cyber Chief on ChannelWeb is a particularly interesting lens for Black Hat, describing a talk by Rod Beckstrom (Director of the National Cyber Security Center in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security).

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Make desire more important than fear: “Change the Way You See Yourself (Through Asset-Based Thinking)”

cover for CTWYSEKathy Cramer and Hank Wasiak’s new book is out, a gorgeous and well-focused follow-on to their Change the Way You See Everything, one of the Microsoft Ad Astra project’s signature giveaways.* In May 2007, we did an amazing two-day workshop with Kathy, Hank and his colleagues from the Concept Farm, and folks from Extreme Arts and Sciences and Telstar oriented around the “Hero’s Journey” archetypal narrative as a metaphor for innovation. We also steadily refined a series of Asset-Based Thinking workshops involving customer-focused brainstorming and problem-solving. So it’s safe to say I’m a fan.

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CFP08: trip report

Part 1 of a series

cfp logoComputers, Freedom, and Privacy 2008 ended with me presenting Dear Potus 08 and circulating the letter to the presidential candidates for signatures, and then a closing plenary by Clay Shirky (notes below). It was exhiliarating as always, and I’m now simultaneously exhausting, revved up, and suffering from jet lag. So I figured I’d blog about it.

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Computers, Freedom, and Privacy 2008: showtime!

cfp logoCFP2008 traditionally starts off with a day of tutorials.

I was on a panel organized by Lillie Coney of EPIC on E-Deceptive Campaign Practices: “Elections 2.0″, which was extremely interesting; I discussed examples of, and responses to, e-deception based on my activism experiences this election season, much of which I’ve blogged about here already.

Tova Wang of Common Cause moderated, and the other panelists included John Phillips of Aristotle, Jenigh J. Garrett of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and Ruchi Bhorwmik of Senator Barack Obama’s office, talking about the legislation he’s introduced banning certain deceptive campaign practices relating to knowingly and intentionally spreading false information about voting times and locations. The audience was extremely involved — and knowledgable — and the conversations during the breaks were great as well. Aldon Hynes already has an interesting followup post in Project VoteProtector on his blog Orient House.

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A bumper crop o’ Slashdot security threads

In RSA: “It feels like something’s missing” earlier this week, I mentioned that I found myself wondering whether what I was seeing at the show responded to security problems as experienced by users. Coincidentally enough, when I checked Slashdot today there were several of interesting security-related threads. So while it’s far from a statistically-valid sample, it’s still agreat chance to ask: is the industry successfully addressing these kinds of problems?

Let’s start with Oklahoma Leaks 10,000 Social Security Numbers, which is by far the most serious single issue:

“By putting SQL queries in the URLs, they not only leaked the personal data of tens of thousands of people, but enabled literally anyone with basic SQL knowledge to put his neighbor/boss/enemies on the sexual offender list.”

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RSA, part 2: static analysis

A continuation of RSA: “It feels like something’s missing”

RSA’s a tough show for static analysis companies, but several were there. Ounce had the largest booth and an excellent message (“listen to your code”); Veracode, Armorize, and Fortify had smaller presence. However, I didn’t actually spend much time at the booths or looking at the details of any specific technology, instead talking with various folks I ran into about the strategic possibilities.

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RSA: “It feels like something’s missing”

The last time I was at the RSA conference/expo in 2004, Bill Gates talked about PREfix and PREfast in his keynote — he even went off and started talking about Microsoft’s acquisition of PREfix! Hard to top that … but it’s a great place for shoozing and to get a feel for the market, so I spent a couple of days hanging out there last week. Unsurprisingly, I was largely thinking about strategies related to static analysis products and technologies, and I’ll cover those in my next post. First, though, I wanted to share my more general impressions.

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