Introduction to Social Machines — Class Information

Instructors: Deb Roy, Preeta Bansal, William Powers, Russell Stevens

Link to Class Tumblr: smintro

Upcoming Seminar Schedule

Seminar: Wednesday, 10 am — 12 pm, E15-341

1:  FEB 4 — Course Introduction
The Public Sphere Part 1 (William Powers) — Presentation Deck


2:  FEB 11
The Public Sphere Part 2 (William Powers)

3:  FEB 18
Introductory Machine Lab

4:  FEB 25
Public Engagement and the State (Preeta Bansal) — Presentation Deck


5:  MAR 4
Quantitative models for a wide variety of complex system behaviors (Yaneer Bar-Yam, New England Complex Systems Institute) — Presentation Material Pt. 1 and Pt. 2

Central Reading:
Complex systems and distributed organizations:
Extended reading:
Concepts of complex systems science:
Read abstracts from:
Ethnic violence:
Food crisis:

6:  MAR 11
The Open Web (Tim Berners-Lee)

From the Semantic Web to Social Machines: A Research Challenge for AI on the World Wide Web

“Socially Aware Cloud Storage”

7:  MAR 19 — 2 pm — 4 pm

Code as Law, Law as Code (Larry Lessig and Preeta Bansal) 

Lawrence Lessig, Code Version 2.0 (2006), Chapter 1 (pp. 1-8)

Lawrence Lessig, “Code is Law:  On Liberty in Cyberspace,” Harvard Magazine (January-February 2000)

Primavera De Filippi & Aaron Wright, “Decentralized Blockchain Technology and the Rise of Lex Cryptographia” (unpublished manuscript, not for further distribution; publication forthcoming) (March 2015)

Lawrence Lessig, “The Biased Filter: Money in Politics, Net Neutrality, Voter Suppression,” Speech delivered at US Capitol on March 7, 2015

Optional: Chapters 10-11 (pp. 169-232) of Lawrence Lessig, Code Version 2.0 (2006)


8:  APR 1 — Technology and Journalism (Andrew Heyward and William Powers)

Assignments for LSM Seminar, 4/1/2015: Technology and Journalism, Andrew Heyward and Bill Powers

[Total estimated time: 1 hour 53 minutes]

Buzzfeed: [reading time 2:00]

9:  APR 8 — The Emergence of Mutual Visibility (Deb Roy and Dan Dennett)

10: APR 22 — Designing for Wisdom:  Filling the Governance Gap (Preeta Bansal) 

Designing Organizations for Wisdom:

Designing Technology for Wise Development:

  • Masanobu Fukuoaka, The One-Straw Revolution:  An Introduction to Natural Farming (1978), Excerpt:  Toward a Do-Nothing Farming
  • Nipun Mehta, “Would Gandhi Use Social Media?” (February 21, 2012) (adapted from talk delivered at the United Nations on February 15, 2012
  • Kentaro Toyama, “Can Technology End Poverty?”, Boston Review (Nov/Dec 2010), pp. 12-29 (Essay by Toyama; Responses by Nicholas Negroponte, Dean Karlan, Ignacio Mas, Nathan Eagle, Jenny C. Aker, Christine Zhenwei Qiang, Evgeny Morozov, and Archon Fung; reply by Toyama).


11:  APR 29 — Engendering Trust in Social Networks and the Digital Public Square (Sandy Pentland)

12:  MAY 6 — The Making of Social Movements (Russell Stevens)

Note: List is composed of two videos and many short readings that should go quickly.



1] 8-minute video on the American Press and the Civil Rights Movement – A compact overview that will [re]familiarize everyone with some of the movement’s iconic imagery.

Important, the video requires a log in we set up for the class.

>UN: LSM2014

>PW: LSM2014

  • Navigate to the Video Lessons tab and scroll down to “The Press and the Civil Rights Movement”

2] New York Times: “Washington: The Rising Spirit of Protest,” James Reston, March 19, 1965

A March, 1965 New York Times piece by one of its most famous columnists, James Reston, who comments on the media “machines” of the day as “instruments for equality and justice.”


Two short news articles on the yellow LIVESTRONG wristband phenomenon

OBAMA 2008+2012

KONY 2012



J.M. Berger and Jonathon Morgan, The ISIS Twitter Census Defining and describing the population of ISIS supporters on Twitter, The Brookings Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, Analysis Paper, No. 20, March 2015


New York Times Magazine: “Our Demand Is Simple: Stop Killing Us,” Jay Caspian King, May 4, 2015

Moyers & Company, “Making Social Movements Matter,” 6-minute video clip of interview with activist and organizer Marshall Ganz, May 10, 2013

New York Times: “The Square People, Part 2,” Thomas L. Friedman, May 17, 2014

The Atlantic: “Why Street Protests Don’t Work,” Moisés Naím, April 7, 2014

New York Times: “After the Protests,” Zeynep Tufekci, March 19, 2014

Slate: “How the Right Was Won,” Mark Joseph Stern, November 3, 2014 [book review of Marc Solomon’s Winning Marriage]

“Three Complaints about Occupy Wall Street,” Post by Charles Lenchner, January 5, 2012

Charles Lenchner was/is active at Occupy Wall Street with the Tech Operations and Labor Outreach Working Groups. He’s interested in CRM, digital strategy, nonprofit software and cats. In his spare time he is executive director of Organizing 2.0, a nonprofit that trains activists in online organizing. The website is from the NYC General Assembly, an organization composed of dozens of groups working together to organize and set the vision for the #occupywallstreet movement.

13.  MAY 13 — Project Presentations (written projects due by 5 pm on May 15)

Machine Lab Description

Schedule: Thursdays, 2 pm — 4 pm, E14-493

Assisting Students

  • Sophie Chou (
  • Neo Mohsenvand (
  • Martin Saveski (>)
  • Ivan Sysoev (
  • Prashanth Vijayaraghavan (
  • Pau Pernghwa Kung (


Russel M. (2013) Mining the Social Web. 2nd edition. O’Reilly.

Examples from this book can be found on

Language: Python

We will need the following Python environment and libraries:

  • IPython Notebook
  • numpy and scipy
  • NLTK
  • scikit-learn
  • gephi
  • sqlalchemy

We suggest Python distribution called Anaconda, which contains everything from above, as well as many other useful libraries. You can find it here:

We will also need Mathematica for visualizations. You can find it here:


1. Twitter access. 

Toolkit: sqlalchemy (for storing data in a database)


  • Setting up Twitter pipeline
  • Setting up database

(For the three subsequent topics, our plan includes a very brief introduction to the basics of each respective area + practical usage of respective toolkits)

2. ML. 

Toolkit: scikit-learn

Topics (very brief introduction to principles of work + practical usage):

  • Supervised and unsupervised learning
  • Clustering: K-Means, EM
  • Classifiers: Naïve Bayes, Logistic Regression, SVM, Decision Trees

3. NLP. 

Toolkit: NLTK.


  • POS-tagging
  • Named Entity Recognition
  • Language models
  • Sentiment analysis
  • Feature design for classification tasks
  • Topic modeling

4. Network analysis. 

Toolkit: NetworkX.


  • Local and global graph metrics
  • Random graph models
  • Homophily, small world, community detection

5. Visualization.

This topic doesn’t have a dedicated section. Rather, at the end of each session we plan to explain how to visualize results.

Toolkits: Gephi and Mathematica.