My research interests focus on the intersection of institutions, society, and technology. The role of technology is twofold in this context, both considering the impact of technology on institutions and society (interactionist perspective), as well as using technology as a tool of constructing artificial models to explore social phenomena.
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 questions:
- In how far we can model institutions (as in conventions, norms, and rules) comprehensively to retrace how they came about (emergence)?
- How did emerging institutions influence subsequent societal development (macro-level representation)?
Associated specific challenges involve:
- What are mechanisms that afford a realistic representation of an agent’s normative environment (internal representation)
- How are those two perspectives (individual representation and macro-level perspective) linked?
Concepts associated with this work include Nested ADICO (nADICO) and Dynamic Deontics.
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).
Information Society & Ethics
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? What are the risks and how can we retain ‘control’ (let alone the question of what ‘retaining control’ actually means in an technological context)?