Director Speaks at MIT Big Data Gathering

What if social networks were smart enough to “forget” friends who were mere acquaintances? What if search engines could “forget” obscure images and webpages crawled years ago? Or perhaps make them more difficult to remember. Imagining a future where technologies possess human qualities (like forgetfulness) was the focus of a wide-ranging discussion led by the Institute’s director Dr. Michael Rappa and MIT’s Miriam Roure at Engaging Data 2013, a conference organized by the MIT Senseable City Lab in Cambridge. “The ability to collect, analyze, and store data in perpetuity,” says Rappa, “has created a world in sharp contrast to how the mind has evolved to cope with everyday life. Forgetting (and recollecting) are inherently human qualities, and arguably necessary in a social context.” Today students enter college networked to hundreds, perhaps thousands of friends or followers carried forward from high school, because severing ties with increasingly distant acquaintances is too much to bother with. Young adults are confronting for the first time photos, tweets, and blogposts from their youth that never go away. “To help people negotiate the digital universe,” says Rappa, “we need to invent algorithms that mimic in useful ways how we function as human beings.”

[Update: see What is the ‘right to be forgotten’?]

MIT Engaging Data Conference 2013
[MIT Senseable City Lab Research Fellows Miriam Roure and Tim Robertson]

Closing plenary panel discussion from Engaging Data 2013: