Manuel Cebrian

Scalable Cooperation
  • Research Scientist

Manuel Cebrian is a research scientist with the Scalable Cooperation group at the MIT Media Lab. He is best known for using computational methods to create incentives that mobilize large groups of people to collaborate in solving major social problems, such as the DARPA Network Challenge, the Department of State Tag Challenge, the DARPA Shredder Challenge, among others.

Cebrian came to MIT from Australia's National Science Agency (CSIRO), where he developed tools for nowcasting disaster damage using crowdsourced data. Before CSIRO, he was based at the University of California, San Diego, where he analyzed large-scale crowdsourcing events. Cebrian gained hands-on experience in collective problem solving through his postdoctoral training at Brown University.

Cebrian earned a Ph.D. in computer science from Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, where his thesis received the dissertation of the year award for his work on plagiarism networks, as well as a test-of-time award ten years after its defense. 

Cebrian's crowdsourcing projects have attracted the attention of millions of … View full description

Manuel Cebrian is a research scientist with the Scalable Cooperation group at the MIT Media Lab. He is best known for using computational methods to create incentives that mobilize large groups of people to collaborate in solving major social problems, such as the DARPA Network Challenge, the Department of State Tag Challenge, the DARPA Shredder Challenge, among others.

Cebrian came to MIT from Australia's National Science Agency (CSIRO), where he developed tools for nowcasting disaster damage using crowdsourced data. Before CSIRO, he was based at the University of California, San Diego, where he analyzed large-scale crowdsourcing events. Cebrian gained hands-on experience in collective problem solving through his postdoctoral training at Brown University.

Cebrian earned a Ph.D. in computer science from Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, where his thesis received the dissertation of the year award for his work on plagiarism networks, as well as a test-of-time award ten years after its defense. 

Cebrian's crowdsourcing projects have attracted the attention of millions of participants from around the world, featuring in  leading academic journals, including ScienceNature,  the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, as well as major media outlets, such as WiredThe EconomistThe Guardian, and The New York Times.

Selected Crowdsourcing Projects 

DARPA Network Challenge, with G. Pickard, W. Pan, R. Crane, A. Madan, I. Rahwan, and A. Pentland. The New York TimesRachel MaddowMSNBCPopular MechanicsMIT NewsIEEE MultimediaScience News.

Tag Challenge, with Alex Rutherford, Sohan Dsouza, and Iyad Rahwan. Scientific AmericanMIT Technology ReviewNew ScientistWired.

 DARPA Shredder Challenge, with A. Vattani, K. Benson, W. Lian, D. Ricketts, and I. Rahwan. MediumNautilusCNETSan Diego Union-TribuneUC San Diego News IUC San Diego News IIKPBSPhys.orgEl PaisRTVE.

Turing Box: Democratizing the study and production of artificial intelligence, with Z. Epstein, B. H.  Payne, et al. IJCAI 2018The Economist NautilusBoston GlobeWorkshop on Machine BehaviorHarvard Business ReviewForbesGithub Development Repository. [Video interviews with proponents of Machine Behavior].

Halloween AI trilogy: ShelleyNormanand The Nightmare Machine, with P. Yanardag, N. Obradovich, and I. Rahwan.  InstagramWashington Post,  FortuneAssociated PressTimeCo.DesignNewsweekNew ScientistWashington PostThe AtlanticForbesBBCNPRCNETNBC NewsViceBoston GlobeFiveThirtyEight, The Onion, and others. 

The Aesthetics of Absence: Deep AngelAI Spirits, and BeeMe, with M. Groh, Z. Epstein,  N. Pescetelli, N. Obradovich. and I. Rahwan et al. New York Times, Le Monde, AeonFast Company, ArtsyProduct HuntHubWeek,  Instagram, Broken Flaneur Short Film, exhibited at the ECCV Workshop on Fashion, Art, and Design, and the NeurIPS 2018 Workshop for Machine Learning for Creativity and Design, Ars Electronica 2019, SXSW 2019.

Deep Empathy, with P. Yanardag, M. Garcia-Herranz, Z. Rahwan,  N.Obradovich, I. Rahwan, et al. UNICEFCo. DesignDigital TrendsAtlas Obscura, and others

Selected Academic Publications

For a comprehensive list of publications, check Cebrian's Google Scholar profile, his Semantic Scholar profile, or his DBLP bibliography.

Crowdsourcing

Time-critical social mobilization, G. Pickard, W. Pan, I. Rahwan, M. Cebrian, R. Crane, A. Madan, and A. Pentland, Science 334(6055):509-512 (2011). New York TimesRachel MadowMSNBCPopular MechanicsMIT NewsIEEE MultimediaScience News.

Reflecting on the DARPA Red Balloon Challenge, J. Tang, M. Cebrian, N. Giacobe, H-W. Kim, T. Kim, D. Wickert, Communications of the ACM 54(4):78-85 (2011).

Finding red balloons with split contracts: robustness to individuals' selfishness, M. Cebrian, L. Coviello, A. Vattani, P. Voulgaris, Proceedings of the ACM Symposium on Theory of Computing (STOC) pp. 775-788, New York, USA (2012). Talk videoYaron Singer's Lecture Notes.

Limits of social mobilization, A. Rutherford, M. Cebrian, S. Dsouza, E. Moro, A. Pentland, and I. Rahwan, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 110(16):6281-6286 (2013). NBCYahoo! NewsArabian GazetteLa Repubblica.

Error and attack tolerance of collective problem solving: The DARPA Shredder Challenge, N. Stefanovich, A. Alshamsi, M. Cebrian, I. Rahwan, EPJ Data Science 3:13 (2014). MediumNautilusCNETSan Diego Union-TribuneUC San Diego News IUC San Diego News IIKPBSPhys.orgEl PaisRTVE.

Global manhunt pushes the limits of social mobilization, I. Rahwan, S. Dsouza, A. Rutherford, V. Naroditskiy, J. McInerney, M. Venanzi, N. Jennings, M. Cebrian, Computer 46(4):68-75 (2013). Scientific AmericanMIT Technology ReviewNew ScientistWired.

Verification in Referral-Based Crowdsourcing, V. Naroditskiy, I. Rahwan, M. Cebrian, N. Jennings, PLoS ONE 7(10): e45924 (2012).

Crowdsourcing contest dilemma, V. Naroditskiy, N. Jennings, P. Van Hentenryck, M. Cebrian, Journal of The Royal Society Interface 11:20140532 (2014). Social Physics BlogThe AustralianABC RadioQuartzLifeHackerThe ConversationUniversity of Southampton.

Collective Digital Sensing

Rapid assessment of disaster damage using social media activity, Y. Kryvasheyeu, H. Chen, N. Obradovich, E. Moro, P. Van Hentenryck, J. Fowler, and M. Cebrian, Science Advances 2, e1500779 (2016). Science MagazineWall Street JournalThe Washington PostSmithsonianMichigan DailyDie WeltDeutschlandfunkDagens NyheterScience NewsEl PaisLa VanguardiaAltmetric. Dataset available at Dryad Digital Repository.

Using friends as sensors to detect global-scale contagious outbreaks, M. Garcia-Herranz, E. Moro, M. Cebrian, N. Christakis, J. Fowler, PLoS ONE 9(4):e92413 (2014). MIT Technology ReviewYale University NewsChronicleBusiness WeekUniversidad Carlos III de MadridHuffington Post.

Social sensing for epidemiological behavior change, A. Madan, M. Cebrian, D. Lazer, A. Pentland, Proceedings of the ACM International Conference on Ubiquitous Computing (Ubicomp) pp. 291-300, Copenhagen, Denmark (2010). Ginger.ioNature News.

Weather impacts expressed sentimentP. Baylis, N. Obradovich, Y. Kryvasheyeu, H. Chen, L. Coviello, E. Moro, M. Cebrian, J. Fowler, PLOS One 13(4): e0195750 (2018). Newsweek, PLOS Research NewsThe Weather ChannelYahoo NewsMIT Technology Review

Analyzing gender inequality through large-scale Facebook advertising dataD. Garcia, Y.M. Kassa, A. Cuevas, M. Cebrian, E. Moro, I. Rahwan, R. Cuevas, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201717781 (2018). Scientific AmericanEl Pais

Inferring mechanisms for global constitutional progressA. Rutherford, Y. Lupu, M. Cebrian, I. Rahwan, B.L. LeVeck, et al. Nature Human Behaviour, 2 (8), 592 (2018). Nature NewsConstitutionology Interactive Microsite.

Urban characteristics attributable to density-driven tie formation, W. Pan, G. Ghoshal, C. Krumme, M. Cebrian, and A. Pentland, Nature Communications 4, 1961 (2013). Featured in PNAS Core Concepts in Computational Social Science, The New York TimesThe Atlantic CitiesThe EconomistSmithsonianMIT News. See related work on Urban Crime, covered by CIO, and our analysis of the capacity of cities to Organize Social Events.

Human-Machine  Cooperation

Machine BehaviourI. Rahwan, M. Cebrian, N. Obradovich, J. Bongard, J.-F. Bonnefon, C. Breazeal, J. W. Crandall, N. A. Christakis, I. D. Couzin, M. O. Jackson, N. R. Jennings, E. Kamar, I. M. Kloumann, H. Larochelle, D. Lazer, R. McElreath, A. Mislove, D. C. Parkes, A. Pentland, M. E. Roberts, A. Shariff, J. B. Tenenbaum, M. Wellman (2019). Nature. 68, pages 477–486 [paper, free read-only version] [Video interviews with some of the authors]. Selected Media: Forbes, Tech Target, Media Lab on Medium, Technology Review, Information Age, ZDNet, Süddeutsche Zeitung, The Telegraph. [Machine Behavior Datathon.]

Small cities face greater impact from automationFrank, M. R., Sun, L., Cebrian, M., Youn, H., & Rahwan, I. (2018). Journal of the Royal Society Interface. 15(139). Visualization: Kellogg Insight. Video: EmTech Talk. Selected Media: MIT Technology ReviewNew ScientistMIT Task Force on the Work of the Future.

Cooperating with Machines, J. Crandall et al. Nature Communications, 9:233 (2018.) Video abstract.  Science MagazineScience DailyLa RepubblicaMIT Technology ReviewLe Monde.  Code: Comparison of algorithms | S#.  Included in Nature Collection: The multidisciplinary nature of machine intelligenceNature Human Behavior.

The evolution of citation graphs in artificial intelligence research. M. Frank, D. Wang, M. Cebrian, I. Rahwan, Nature Machine Intelligence 1 (2), 79 (2019). Kellog Insight. 

Toward understanding the impact of artificial intelligence on labor, M. Frank, D. Autor, J. Bessen, E. Brynjolfsson, M. Cebrian, D. Deming, M. Feldman, M. Groh, J. Lobo, E. Moro, D. Wang, H. Youn, Y. Rahwan. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 201900949 (2019).

Selected Essays

Searching for Someone: From the “Small World Experiment” to the “Red Balloon Challenge,” and beyond, by M. Cebrian et al. Medium (2016). Accompanying website. 

Becoming Someone: How the Internet turned inwards, by M. Cebrian and I. Rahwan, Medium (2018). Accompanying art installation

Six Degrees of Separation at Burning Man, with Z. Epstein, M. Epstein, and C. Almenar, Nautilus (2019). Academic  paper

Beyond Viral: Why isn't social media a more reliable channel for constructive social change? with I.  Rahwan, A. Pentland, Communications of the ACM (2016). Accompanying video

For a Spanish Internet with Emotion, with J. Balsa and A. Ortega,  El Pais (2019).

Beware corporate ‘machinewashing’ of AI, with N. Obradovich, W. Powers, and I. Rahwan, Boston Globe (2019). 

Machine Behavior Needs to Be an Academic Discipline, with I. Rahwan, Nautilus (2018).

Why We Need to Audit Algorithms, by M. Cebrian et al., Harvard Business Review, (2018).

Spam Church

In 2017, Cebrian co-founded Spam Church, an artist collective with a mission to illuminate the many ways digital spam mediates our social world through design, installations and field experiments.

Additional News Coverage

English coverage: New York TimesNatureThe EconomistPopular ScienceNature NewsNew ScientistThe AtlanticWiredMIT Technology ReviewNautilusMediumThe Atlantic's CitylabYale NewsThe ConversationThe AustralianMIT Technology ReviewThe AustralianAustralian Broadcasting CorporationCIOTransparency InternationalArts HubMxScience NewsScience MagazineWall Street JournalThe Washington PostSmithsonianDie WeltDeutschlandfunkDagens NyheterThe AdvertiserWikimedia Research ShowcaseAustralian National UniversityMIT Technology ReviewThe AtlanticForbesMotherboardMIT Sloan Management ReviewWashington PostThe AtlanticForbesBBCNPRCNETNBC NewsViceBoston GlobeFiveThirtyEightCCCBLabNewsweekPLOS Research NewsThe Weather Channel,  Yahoo UK NewsQuartzMIT Tech Review. 

Spanish coverage: El PaisEl MundoCinco DiasMuy InteresanteEl ConfidencialAhora SemanalRTVECinco DiasEl PaisMadri+dEl PaisLa VanguardiaCadena SerNada es GratisEl PaisEl ConfidencialYorokobuEl ConfidencialUniversidad Pablo de OlavideEl PaisSacyrCCCBLabLa Vanguardia, El Pais, Xataka