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Web Science Institute

Social Machines

Social Machines are Web-scale systems in which humans and machines play complementary roles in achieving a desirable outcome. The Wikipedia social machine, for example, consists of a community of editors who use the MediaWiki software according to policies and rules that they have devised about collaborative encyclopaedias.

SOCIAM: The Theory and Practice of Social Machines was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (£6m) together with additional contributions from key international research, public sector and industry collaborators. It was a collaborative project between four partner institutions: Department of Computer Science, University of Oxford, the Oxford e-Research Centre (which integrated with the Department of Engineering Science in August 2017), Electronics and Computer Science, University of Southampton, and the Department of Informatics, University of Edinburgh.

The project's aim was to map the space of social machines, to understand their development, and to produce an inventory of the skills required to analyse and engineer them and make them sustainable and effective. This was a multidisciplinary imperative, and the SOCIAM project drew upon social science, law and regulation, network science, data science and computer science, and more.

In February, 2019, authors from the WSI and the Sociam project, Nigel Shadbolt, Kieron O’Hara, David De Roure and Wendy Hall, published a book describing Sociam, entitled The Theory and Practice of Social Machines. The book, published by Springer, is in the series Lecture Notes in Social Networks, and is a comprehensive survey of the ground-breaking work of Sociam. Its five chapters discuss: definitions and examples of social machines; theories of social machines, including social theories, technical theories, and theories in terms of data; how social machines work in practice, with a focus on citizen science; issues relating to privacy, ethics and trust, with a focus on healthcare; and the possible future evolution of social machines.

Social Machines book

Social Machines book

Authored by Nigel Shadbolt, Kieron O'Hara, Dave De Roure and Wendy Hall.

View the book

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