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Duncan J. Watts:
"Six Degrees: The Science of the Connected Age"

Alex (Sandy) Pentland

Wednesday, February 12, 2003, 4:00 PM EST

Bartos Theatre, MIT Media Lab (E15)

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We've all heard about "Six Degrees of Separation." What most people don't know is how important this concept is for understanding the connected systems that make up our modern world.

Between the Internet and email, cell phones and satellites, friends and family, highways and airports, we are continuously surrounded by and subjected to a world of networks—often bewilderingly so. Whether they bind computers, economies, or terrorist organizations, networks are everywhere in the real world; yet, until recently, the fundamental nature of the networks themselves has remained shrouded in mystery. But in the past few years, a new generation of research has commenced that is rapidly revealing the rules by which networks grow, the patterns they form, and the way in which they drive collective behavior.

Starting from the story of the "small world problem," from which the idea of six degrees was derived, Watts will describe the science of networks and its relevance to a range of problems, from epidemics of disease to outbreaks of market madness; from individuals searching for information to business firms surviving crisis and change; and from the structure of personal relationships to the technological and social choices of entire societies.

Duncan J. Watts is associate professor of sociology at Columbia University, and an external faculty member of the Santa Fe Institute. He holds BSc in physics from the University of New South Wales, and a PhD in theoretical and applied mechanics from Cornell University.

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