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ODYCCEUS Report Summary

Project ID: 732942
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.2.2.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ODYCCEUS (Opinion Dynamics and Cultural Conflict in European Spaces)

Reporting period: 2017-01-01 to 2017-12-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

Social media and the digitization of news and discussion fora are having far-reaching effects on the way individuals and communities communicate, organize, and express themselves. Can the information circulating on these platforms be tapped to better understand and analyze the enormous problems facing our contemporary society? Could this help us to better monitor the growing number of social crises due to cultural differences and diverging world-views? Would this facilitate early detection and perhaps even ways to resolve conflicts before they lead to violence? The ODYCCEUS project answers all these questions affirmatively. It will develop the conceptual foundations, methodologies, and tools to translate this bold vision into reality and demonstrate its power in a number of case studies.

ODYCCEUS stands for Opinion Dynamics and Cultural Conflict in European Spaces. The project seeks conceptual breakthroughs in Global Systems Science, including a fine-grained representation of cultural conflicts based on conceptual spaces and sophisticated text analysis, extensions of game theory to handle games with both divergent interests and divergent mindsets, and new models of alignment and polarization dynamics. The project will also develop an open modular platform, called PENELOPE, that integrates tools for the complete pipeline, from data scraped from social media and digital sources, to visualization of the analyses and models developed by the project.

On top of the PENELOPE platform, the project will build two innovative participatory tools, the OPINION OBSERVATORY and the OPINION FACILITATOR, which allow citizens to monitor, visualize and influence the dynamics of conflict situations that involve heterogeneous cultural biases and non-transparent entanglements of multilateral interests. The OPINION OBSERVATORY takes a global view of ongoing debates: The observed semantic networks, individual conceptual spaces, and argumentation structures will be compared to each other in order to generate a conceptual landscape, that brings out both the similarities and dissonances between the opinions, conceptualizations and argumentation structures of individuals engaged in the debates. Once the OBSERVATORY is operational, it becomes possible to set a further step in building an OPINION FACILITATOR. The FACILITATOR makes the opinion differences, and particularly the conceptual maps used by participants in a debate visible in such a way that points of contention can be identified and attempts can be made to find common ground on these points.

The OPINION OBSERVATORY and FACILITATOR are intended for a very wide public. They will be released as apps that use the PENELOPE infrastructure to perform the data gathering, analysis and modelling. The project will construct prototypes and test them with real life audiences.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

Within the first year, several important steps to realize the overall goals of ODYCCEUS have been made. The concept of projective games has been developed as a theoretical tool to describe the effects of using different representations of the world on the outcomes of interactions. Diverging representations can be harmful in some contexts but beneficial in others and first insights into the respective conditions have been obtained. As a necessary step for linking text analysis to political spaces and dynamic models of opinion change we have devised a mathematical framework which conceives positions in political spaces as a multi-level construct from arguments to opinions regarding a series of political issues to „ideological“ spaces constructed on that basis. We have developed a computational model for opinion dynamics based on these principles which is amenable to mathematical analysis. We also devised first models for learning in games with partial representations and a model for opinion dynamics that imports ideas from reinforcement learning into this area. Finally, we defined the basic architecture of the software platform Penelope as a maximally distributed framework and provided a first pilot for the Opinion Observatory which will be used by the project partners to improve its functionality.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

The project will forge significant breakthroughs regarding foundational theoretic tools and technologies for a social science that harnesses and critically reflects the opportunities given by new digital media.

(1) Projective game theory. The recent ascent of behavioural economics has brought insights from psychology to bear on the contextual determinants of human action for quasi-rational actors. The ODYCCEUS project aims at providing game-theoretic foundations for enculturated actors, whose behaviour is heavily affected by cultural influences.
(2) Modeling opinion dynamics. Existing models of opinion dynamics are usually abstract and lack a link to real data. In this project, we employ human subject experiments to build confidence regarding opinion exchange mechanisms at the inter-individual level and use data sources from political discourses in order to arrive at empirically informed opinion representations that reflect the conceptual structure underlying a real debate. This opens up completely new possibilities for model validation, model-based recommendation and prediction.
(3) Conceptual spaces. Conceptual spaces, as geometric models of knowledge representation, have shown their utility in human analysis of text and dialog. The project operationalizes political spaces as conceptual spaces in order to infer them from texts by methods from natural language processing.
(4) Network analysis. The thorough analysis of (a) social media as complex interaction flows between millions of individuals, (b) debates as logical networks of competing arguments, and (c) conflicts as spatio-temporal interaction patterns between actors and stakeholders, all require theoretical and methodological advances in graph theory. The novelty of our approach consists in embedding such interaction graphs in space and time in order to unravel the full complexity and dynamics of conflicting situations.
(5) Technological breakthroughs:
The PENELOPE platform will provide tools to analyze digital traces of political communication which, compared to existing approaches, will increase the level of automation (so far many steps in this process are done by hand) by incorporating new tools from computational linguistics.
The development of open platforms such as the OPINION OBSERVATORY and the OPINION FACILITATOR is intended to represent an experiment in developing simultaneously a technological platform and a community of users that includes the public and stakeholders such as foundations, media companies, institutions and companies working in the area of opinion dynamics and conflict management.
Thus, the technologies developed in the project will have a societal impact as they will be enhancing the European public sphere by (i) increasing the sensibility for and the understanding of the dynamics of collective identities and their role in cultural and political conflicts and (ii) enabling actors with enriched capabilities for monitoring and analyzing opinion dynamics and detect critical areas of potential conflict. A special feature of the project is that the societal impact of the developed technologies will be addressed as a research topic directly within the project.

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