Honors Colloquium - University of Rhode Island
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Scenes from the College of Arts and Sciences

Fall 2011 Honors Colloquium

Deb Roy (November 8)
Panel on Social Media


Deb Roy received his bachelor of computer engineering from the University of Waterloo in 1992 and his Ph.D. in cognitive science from MIT in 1999 where he is now a tenured professor. His current interests relate to the ways in which children learn language. He uses this information to create machines that are able to communicate in human-like ways.

To conduct this research, Roy video recorded a large portion of his son's first three years of life at home in an attempt to understand basic processes of child language development. Using this unique collection of home videos, Roy's research team has uncovered surprising new insights into how one child learned to talk.




In the last few years, social networks have become standard platforms for communication among hundreds of millions of global users. Facebook, the largest of the social networking sites, has in excess of 750 million users, about 1/10 of the global population, and over one half of these users log onto their accounts in any given day. We use social networks to keep in touch with friends, follow the news, and even find jobs. Strictly speaking, social media, defined as "a group of Internet-based applications that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content" was born decades ago when the Internet was opened to the public. Early-on e-mail and instant messaging allowed us to reach people near and far almost instantaneously, injecting an immediacy and a newfound intimacy into our personal and professional communication. Social networking sites added functionality beyond that which was offered by e-mail and, as such, appear to have touched a nerve that led to its rapid growth. The number of Facebook users more than doubled every eight months - yup, the same sort of exponential growth discussed by Kurzweil in the first lecture in this series - from its inception in 2005 through 2009 and, although still growing rapidly, the rate is no longer exponential. This is a case where there is a hard limit on the number of users - the global population - and, as remarked above, Facebook is approaching that limit. And Facebook is not the only social network, there are many of others, MySpace, Bebo, Friendster, hi5, orkut, PerfSpot, Google+, etc. Each offers a slightly different array of functionality, using mobile and Internet technology to disseminate text, audio, video, and interactive media to targeted groups of friends and family or to vast global networks of complete strangers. The explosive growth of social networking has changed societies and social interactions. Deb Roy and Johanna Blakely will discuss how they see social media, the impact it has on our lives, and how businesses and organizations are using it to transform the world.



URI Presentation - Video
The video for the URI presentation on 11/8/11

MIT Profile
Deb Roy's profile on the MIT Media Lab website

TED Talk
Deb Roy's TED Talk on the birth of a word

Bluefin Labs Website
The official website for Bluefin Labs, a company co-founded by Deb Roy in 2008