Bridging the behavioral – computational gap

The Washington Post today ran a fluffy piece about academics studying social computing. It appears the author, Monica Hesse, mostly wanted to make fun about the silly academics, but she raised an issue at the beginning that is squarely in the space in which we incentive-centered design folks have been playing:

Who will own the study of the social networking sites? Is it computer science or behavioral science? Is it neuropsychology or artificial intelligence?

A big part of what ICD is about is bridging the gap between behavioral and computer sciences (including psychology and artificial intelligence). We’ve been pioneering that here at Michigan since the late 1990s, and we’re getting traction (and there are now good people at most other universities trying to do something similar, though not under the ICD label, which we just started promoting a couple of years ago).
Our basic theme is that the performance of modern information systems depends critically on the behavior and choices of humans interacting with the system, but in particular, using the system to interact with each other. So the humans are smart “devices” and part of the system. But humans are autonomous and motivated: they can’t be programmed. Necessarily, good design and management increasing requires bringing the sciences of motivated behavior to bear.


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