Interaction Economics: Instruments that Measure Social-Computational Systems

I gave a presentation in our weekly labour/development brown bag series on a NSF grant that I am co-PI on. This is very different from most of the other things I work on, but I think it has great potential. You can find the presentation here.

This project merges the fields of Economics and Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) into a new field of Interaction Economics. This field studies the costs and benefits of computer systems that define how people decide to use them. This project makes three contributions that form the basis of Interaction Economics. First, we will scientifically measure the objective, quantitative amount that a user interface motivates or demotivates a user to accomplish a task with it. This capability has broad implications, and our method is faster and cheaper than traditional user studies. Second, we will create economic models of these motivations, predicting how systems of interfaces differentially affect production. Third, we will repeatably experiment with social systems by creating multiple copies of them with controlled and manipulated variables, and running the systems to observe the effects of our changes. These three contributions will let us experimentally optimize current systems, and design new systems, of greater complexity and novelty, with greater certainty of success. Our methodology relies on a novel use of Internet labor markets, specifically Amazon‘s Mechanical Turk, a place where interactive tasks (HCI) meet incentives and markets (Economics). With controlled payments to real people we can simulate and study a wide range of social-computational phenomena that was not possible before.