Ourselves and Our Interactions: The Ultimate Physics Problem?

Science  24 Jul 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5939, pp. 406-408
DOI: 10.1126/science.325_406

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With €3.6 million of support from the European Union, a research team aims to develop a computer program that can analyze dialogue from Internet chat rooms and tell when people are growing excited, angry, and so on. The team is part of a small but growing number of physicists who are turning from atoms and electrons to study social phenomena such as terrorism, the growth of cities, and the popularity of Internet videos. Joining with social scientists, they treat groups of people as "complex socioeconomic systems" of many interacting individuals and analyze them using conceptual tools borrowed from physics, mathematics, and computer science. Last month, 130 researchers of various stripes gathered in Zurich, Switzerland, to discuss such work.