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Nicholas Christakis directs the Human Nature Lab at Yale University, where he is the Sol Goldman Family Professor of Social and Natural Science, and he is the Co-Director of the Yale Institute for Network Science.
Christakis is a sociologist and physician who conducts research in the area of biosocial science, investigating the biological predicates and consequences of social phenomena.
Christakis’ research is focused on the relationship between social networks and well-being. This research engages two types of phenomena: the social, mathematical, and biological rules governing how social networks form (“connection”), and the biological and social implications of how they operate to influence thoughts, feelings, and behaviours (“contagion”).
The lab is currently investigating interactions between humans and artificial intelligence (AI) within complex social systems. Specifically, they are inventing and testing bots that can help humans to address social dilemmas. Humans are embedded in social networks. But, to this web of human connections, we are increasingly adding forms of machine intelligence. Humans increasingly interact socially with software agents or real machines.
An important scientific challenge is thus to understand how such new technologies might be deployed – deliberately or incidentally – to promote beneficial social interactions. This is especially the case in situations where individual and collective interests are potentially at odds, as can occur in social dilemmas involving challenges as disparate as cooperation, coordination, sharing, navigation, or even evacuation during disasters. Christakis believes that AI bots can resolve problems in these areas and has shown how AI can help humans in challenges like coordination, cooperation, evacuation, and sharing.
Along with long-time collaborator, James Fowler, Christakis has authored a general-audience book on social networks: Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, which has been translated into nearly twenty foreign languages.