Design@Large: Haoqi Zhang (Northwestern University)

Abstract

Computational Ecosystems: Tech-enabled Communities to Advance Human Values at Scale

Despite the continued development of individual technologies and processes for supporting human endeavors, major leaps in solving complex human problems will require advances in system-level thinking and orchestration. In this talk, I describe efforts to design, build, and study Computational Ecosystems that interweave community process, social structures, and intelligent systems to unite people and machines to solve complex problems and advance human values at scale. Computational ecosystems integrate various components to support ecosystem function; the interplay among components synergistically advances desired values and problem solving goals in ways that isolated technologies and processes cannot. Taking a systems approach to design, computational ecosystems emphasize (1) computational thinking to decompose and distribute problem solving to diverse people or machines most able to address them; and (2) ecological thinking to create sustainable processes and interactions that support jointly the goals of ecosystem members and proper ecosystem function. I present examples of computational ecosystems designed to advance community-based planning and research training, that respectively engages thousands of people in planning an event and empowers a single faculty member to provide authentic research training to 20+ students. These solutions demonstrate how to combine wedges of human and machine competencies into integrative technology-supported, community-based solutions. I will preview what’s ahead for computational ecosystems, and close with a few thoughts on the role of computing technologies in advancing human values at scale.

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