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Karahalios Brings Social Computing Expertise To DARPA Group Focused On Tech’s Future

8/16/2018 5:06:26 PM David Mercer, Illinois Computer Science

Professor Karrie Karahalios has been invited to become part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Information Science and Technology Study Group, joining Professor Sarita Adve to give Illinois Computer Science two researchers on the prestigious 30-member panel.

DARPA has maintained the rotating group of engineers and scientists since the 1980s to advise it on areas in computer and communication technologies where major changes are on the horizon.

Karahalios, who focuses on social computing, will begin in August. She said she’s thrilled to bring her knowledge of the subject to the forward-looking group, particularly as researchers work to gauge the effects information has on people as it flows through social networks.
CS Professor Karrie Karahalios looks forward to bringing the perspective of social computing to DARPA's Information Science and Technology Study Group.
CS Professor Karrie Karahalios looks forward to bringing the perspective of social computing to DARPA's Information Science and Technology Study Group.

“I’m really interested in societal implications of machine learning algorithms,” Karahalios said, “and excited that there’s going to be a voice at the table for my field.”

The Study Group was started by DARPA in 1987 to provide ongoing and independent assessment of information science and technology as they relate to the U.S. Department of Defense. Part of the group’s job is to alert DARPA to technological surprises on the horizon, or to create them.

Much of Karahalios’ research is focused on a subject that drives many current news stories about politics, privacy, and more -- social media platforms such as Facebook, how information flows through them, the sometimes far-reaching impacts it has, and what people know and don’t know about those platforms.

“One of the things that we found in some of our work is that people don’t exactly understand how some of these algorithms work, or even that they exist in the systems they use every day. It’s actually hurting relationships,” she said.

“For example, somebody might post a message on Facebook saying, ‘Oh, my mother died today, I’m so sad.’ And because they don’t get a comment from someone they value, they’ll just stop speaking to them – not realizing that that person may never have seen that post,” Karahalios said.

Her work and research by others that has followed it has found that roughly two-thirds of Facebook users don’t know that an algorithm determines which posts they see on the platform.

In addition to research track record and expertise, selection for the Study Group also requires a willingness to serve. The role is voluntary and demanding, and a great candidate likely has what Study Group Chairman and VMware Inc. Senior Director of Research and Innovation Chris Ramming called “the service gene” when Adve joined the group in 2017.

That responsibility suits Karahalios.

“I enjoy public service. I think that there’s a huge impact we can have on our field by doing this type of service,” she said, adding that there is a personal benefit to this kind of service, too. “I think it’s so much more fun to be able to have a voice for what type of research we’re going to be doing for the next 10 years.”

Karahalios plans to go into her three-year term with no fixed idea of what she will work on, open to the possibilities ahead of her.

“I’m taking a wait and see attitude to it,” she said.