In the past a scientist doing research into human cooperation would often sit for hours at a computer watching videos. These efforts have yielded large amounts of data and important insights into social interaction. But the rapid progress that has been made in sensor technology now affords new possibilities. In his inaugural lecture Paul Taylor describes how human touch technologies and the field of computational social science are revolutionizing our response in contexts such as policing and military peacekeeping.

Sophisticated technology is now able to identify behaviour patterns that are hard for a human coder to recognize. Taylor explains: “This can be achieved by using new software algorithms that identify patterns in the way people speak, and video analyses that are able to classify forms of nonverbal behaviour. It can also be achieved using ‘human touch’ technologies, such as devices no bigger than a matchbox that can record every movement in a limb. It would take a human coder years to achieve the same thing.”
These technologies enable the dynamics of interpersonal behaviour to be measured with particular precision, and this has major consequences, says Taylor. The new technology has helped us understand how military peacekeepers can gain cooperation from the local communities with whom they interact, and it has helped governments combat the online promotion of violent extremism.

In his inaugural lecture Prof. Taylor will explain how human touch technologies provide fresh understanding in research into ‘human cooperation’. He will focus on behavioural alignment, which reflects people’s natural tendency to adapt their behaviour to that of a partner. He will argue it is the result of three processes. The first one, ‘situational framing’ is a cognitive process: when people have the same tendencies and goals they start working together. The second process focuses on behaviour, specifically the imitation of simple verbal and non-verbal interaction components: this is a virtually unconscious process. The third process involves group dynamics, our tendency to work with other people. Prof. Taylor will use videos of disturbances and street fights to show how outsiders frequently work together to put a stop to violence.