Monday, February 18, 2008

Berkman Center Visit

A few colleagues and I paid a visit to the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School this past week. They are doing some fascinating work in a variety of areas. The topic of the day was how to bring sustainable development to people living at the “Bottom of the Pyramid” – those living on less than $2 per day. Berkman projects on Identity and Reputation in scale systems are especially relevant. At the village level a person at the bottom of the pyramid can only effectively do business with people they know and trust. They have little access to the modern infrastructure wealthier people rely on every day such as ID cards, credit ratings, etc. Finding ways to expand trust infrastructure is critical to development projects of all kinds.

After the meeting I spent some time with Oliver Goodenough, a Professor of Law at Vermont Law School. I did not realize this until after the meeting but it turns out Goodenough worked with Richard Dawkins including co-writing the Nature paper “The 'St Jude' Mind Virus.” Now he is doing research which applies neuroscience to problems in business/law. This includes using fMRI to study moral reasoning when it comes to legal subjects.

It is amazing to me to see how rapidly the cross pollination of social sciences research with neuroscience is taking place. Our increased understanding of the brain is going to remake social science as we know it. We are living in exciting times.

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