My research interests focus on the intersection of institutions, society, and technology. My focal interest lies on institutions in all their forms (formal, informal) as the central coordination mechanism to govern social behavior at any scale. Technology plays an important role when analyzing institutions in a societal context, since it is a central means of innovation that institutions govern, whether reactively (e.g., controlling effects of innovations), or proactively (i.e., institutions as sponsor of technological innovation). In as far as technology is oftentimes subject to study (e.g., the impact of technology on institutions and society), it is also a means to study institutions (i.e., using technology as a tool to analyze policy and social norms, as well as social phenomena more broadly).
The associated themes are listed in the following, and are roughly ordered from ‘specific’ to ‘general’ themes.
Institutional Modelling and Analysis
This theme revolves around a set of general aspects:
- Establishing an integrated institution model capturing conventions, social norms and legal rules to enable their use from a wide range of different perspectives, such as
- evaluating institutions based on analytical metrics (e.g., governance structure, complexity)
- assessing the interaction of intended effects and unintended consequences (e.g., policies vs. actual behavioral effects)
- modelling institutional emergence under consideration of exogenous and endogenous factors
- studying the change of institutions over time
- Reflecting the interaction between micro-level interactions and macro-level phenomena, alongside associated feedback cycles (immergence)
Associated specific challenges involve:
- General-purpose representations of institutions and associated metrics
- Realistic representation of an agent’s cognitive structure and embedding in its normative environment
- Causal linkages and interactions between micro and macro perspective of institutions
Agent-Based Modelling and Simulation
Agents provide the best approximation of the ‘human’ in software, but brings along the challenge of representing the same complex interdependencies we find in real society, let alone the mental representation in individuals. Associated questions involve:
- How can we manage the trade-off of providing an accurate representation of the human model (internal complexity) and the domain-specific complexity we aim to model (external complexity)?
- In the light of increasingly complex models, how can we ensure that developed models actually have the explanatory value that we expect (challenges related to validation)?
The practical use of ICT is defined by interconnected systems. However, these systems operate increasingly decentralised, providing a technological landscape in which artificial and human entities coexist. In the context, aspects of decentralised coordination (i.e., systems that do no longer rely on a central coordinating entity) such as offered by blockchain technology (e.g., smart contracts) will play a central role. To date, the lack of centralised control brings challenges that need to be addressed, e.g., developing infrastructure that operates reliably (e.g., allows the fixing of bugs at runtime), and more importantly, prevents takeovers and minimises opportunities for collusion (e.g., to serve as infrastructure for the digital democracy).
Societal Implications of Digitization
General questions that are relevant in the context of my primary research interests involves around their impact. In how far are our lives affected by technological changes caused by the uptake AI and decentralised coordination? How does it ‘enable’ us, which concessions do we make as society? How can we ensure inclusiveness in an increasingly digitized society (digital divide)? What are the risks and how can we retain ‘control’ (let alone the question of what ‘retaining control’ actually means in an technological context such as distributed ledger technology)?