It is hard to interview a self-defined “not very active user of social media”. But as I see it, that’s a good quality. It does mean that you’re not going to fill my Facebook wall with videos of cute kittens, which is a blessing in these times. Yep, I said exactly those words to Pau. And he laughed.
Pau Pernghwa Kung is a first year graduate student at Deb Roy’s Laboratory for Social Machines, as you can read here. He is working on “mixing machine learning, network analysis, and journalism in ways that make news sing.”
Machines learning, network analysis and journalism. Sounds interesting… and fancy. But, first of all, Pau, how do you explain what cognitive machines is to a journalist who doesn’t know anything about it?
“Just for clarification”, said Pau, “cognitive machines is actually the old term.” Ok, I screwed the interview up during the first question. Well done, Elaine”, I thought. When Pau left the Lippmann House, I googled “cognitive machine vs. social machine”. And guess what, the first result was this webpage at MIT with the following announcement:
This web site is no longer updated. For current research led by Deb Roy, see the Laboratory for Social Machines.
So, “RIP cognitive machines” – it’s not actually dead – and “Hello, social machine learning.”
According to Pau, social machine learning “consider how technology connects with society to deploy responsive systems across multi-scaled social organizations (e.g., schools, villages, cities, nations) where people and machines can collaborate on problems that can’t be solved manually or through automation alone.” They focus on three dimensions: governance, journalism, and education.
Right now they are investigating a Spanish town called Jun. 35,000 people lives there and they are using Twitter to make local government more accessible and more accountable to its citizens. “We are trying to find out which ones of the Twitter features actually work and how can we leverage on their current system to scale up this response to larger cities,” says Pau.
In the case of journalism, the main focus of Pau’s research, is “looking at signals in the social sphere (Facebook, Twitter, and other social media) that actually affect journalism and how the journalists react to the influence of this social sphere”.
“We are trying to build an analytic engine for news and for journalists by first ingesting the news sources (we are looking at The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, NPR, CNN, etc.) and later collecting all the tweets from journalists”, he added.
With all this data Pau can answer some interesting questions such as who is generating more information? Who is the leader among the journalists? Who is more influential on social media? Are the media and the journalists being influenced by social media?
But Pua, I followed your link to your Twitter account and there is just an egg there. Not a single tweet. How come?, I asked.”I feel ashamed about it. I look to Twitter from other people’s accounts but not from mine.”
Last year, Twitter gave $10 million to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology over the next five years to study patterns of public discourse on the Internet, and potentially to build technology that will make online civic action more effective.
Pau also cares a lot about his profile on LinkedIn, thank God. Following his digital fingerprint, I knew he worked as an intern at Epoch Foundation form 2009 to 2011, where he “performed various industry survey for member corporations; and supported biomedical industry business competition”, among other activities.
From 2010 to 2011 he was also part of OnionSky, “a start-up website service focusing on establishing a platform for streaming performing arts multimedia records”. And on July, 2012, he started working at the Digital Video Multimedia Lab at Columbia University.
Pua is also an expert on chess, and Chinese chess. Could you explain the Chinese chess?, I asked, pronouncing the word chess as cheese. I need to stop doing that. Pau seemed to be very confused. I rectified my pronunciation.
“It’s a strategy board game for two players,” he said.”We have the cannon which must jump to capture the king. The generals can not face each other directly and we have areas on the board called the river and palace, which restrict the movement of some pieces (but enhance that of others); and placement of the pieces on the intersections of the board lines, rather than within the squares.”
He also used to play the violin and the saxophone. Where did you learn?, I asked. “When I was very young. I played for eight or nine years. I was with an instrument band.”
At the end, I tried to do something I saw at the Inside Actors Studio program with some very Cuban variations. Pau, can you tell me the first word that comes to your mind when I say the following words? “That’s fun,” he said.
“MIT”, I said.
“Media Lab”, he answered.
“Facebook”, I said.
“Twitter, I guess”, he said.
“Social Learning”, I said.
“Teaching?”, he answered
“Sprite”, I asked because he was drinking one.
“Coke”, he answered.
“Taiwan”, I said.
“Mainland”, he answered.