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Nathan Matias, Governing Human & Machine Behavior

Abstract: The governance of real-time decision-making algorithms is one of society’s most pressing scientific challenges. In public discourse, these algorithms decide what we are allowed to say and rank the information we see. Because they adapt to human behaviors that they also influence, their actions have been hard to predict— representing a risk to society and a challenge for anyone who would govern their behavior.

What kinds of knowledge can help us observe and govern these feedback loops between human and machine behavior? And how might we need to re-make research methods to work for democracies and not just corporations? In this talk, you will hear about a series of studies to understand the impact of content moderation algorithms on freedom of expression and reduce the spread of misinformation by recommender systems. You will also hear about the role of citizen science in digital governance and how to design systems for industry-independent research.

Nathan Matias

J. Nathan Matias

Dr. J. Nathan Matias (@natematias) organizes citizen behavioral science for a safer, fairer, more understanding internet. A Guatemalan-American, Nathan is an assistant professor in the Cornell University Department of Communication.

Nathan is founder of the Citizens and Technology Lab (formerly CivilServant), a public-interest research group at Cornell that organizes citizen behavioral science and behavioral consumer protection research for digital life. CAT Lab has worked with communities of tens of millions of people on reddit, Wikipedia, and Twitter to test ideas for preventing harassment, broadening gender diversity on social media, responding to human/algorithmic misinformation, managing political conflict, and auditing social technologies. Nathan is also pioneering industry-independent evaluations on the impact of tech platform policies in society.

From 2017-2019, Nathan was an associate research scholar at Princeton University in Psychology, the Center for Information Technology, and Sociology. In 2017, Nathan completed his Ph.D. at the MIT Media Lab with Ethan Zuckerman on the governance of human and machine behavior in an experimenting society (video) (thesis). Nathan also spent several years as a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. Before MIT, Nathan worked in tech startups that have reached hundreds of millions of phones, helped start a series of education and journalistic charities, and studied English/postcolonial literature at the University of Cambridge and Elizabethtown College. His writings have appeared in The Atlantic, PBS, the Guardian, and other international media.

Nathan’s work is regularly covered by international media, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, NPR All Things Considered, WIRED, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Boston Globe, Canadian Broadcasting Company, FastCompany, Fortune, Chronicle of Higher Education, Nieman Journalism Review, and the Columbia Journalism Review, to name a few.

When not doing research, teaching, and organizing, Nathan enjoys sailing, facilitating gatherings for creative learning, having conversations about technology and faith, and working on projects that make you laugh, then think.

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