In this third event of the rIICerca series, we will discuss with Professor Timoteo Carletti and researcher Andreagiovanni Reina the mathematical diffusion of opinions in social networks.
The spreading of information and opinions in a population can shape the society, its culture, its progress, and determine its norms and rules. Understanding what factors make a population able to reach an agreement or remain divided on polarised opinions is an important issue for policymakers and regulators, but also for economics.
In this seminar, we will discuss how scientists have built mathematical models of opinions spreading in large populations. These models describe the spreading of information on (social) networks composed of nodes — here the nodes symbolise individuals — who can influence each other when connected by a network edge — testifying to the existence of a social link through which information can flow. It is important to observe that these mathematical models are based on major simplifications which do not allow us to describe with precision the real world and our complex society and in particular cannot predict the behaviour of a given individual. Therefore, their predictive power is somehow limited to generic individuals and they cannot anticipate with precision the outcome of future events. Nevertheless, these models are important to gain useful insights into what factors facilitate or hinder opinion spreading, and into what conditions one outcome is more probable than others. They also offer the possibility to study potential scenarios, otherwise impossible to realise for ethical and practical issues. These models thus often speak in terms of probabilities; predictions are never certain because uncertainty is an intrinsic factor of processes involving human behaviour and large societies. Building a model can be done starting from scientists’ intuition and assumptions or, alternatively, using (big) data. Both approaches come with flaws and limitations; our seminar will highlight the importance of considering these limitations when drawing conclusions from a mathematical model.
Andreagiovanni Reina received an MSc degree in Computer Engineering from Politecnico di Milano, Italy, and a PhD degree in applied sciences from IRIDIA, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium. He was a research fellow at the University of Sheffield, UK, from 2015 to 2020. Andreagiovanni is currently a Research Fellow in collective behaviour at the Interdisciplinary Institute for Artificial Intelligence (IRIDIA) of the Université Libre de Bruxelles, funded by the Belgian F.R.S.-FNRS as a Chargé de Recherches. He has been a researcher in seven European projects on distributed robotic systems since 2009, and through his interdisciplinary approach has made scientific contributions to the fields of robotics, computer science, physics, cognitive psychology, and theoretical biology.
After a Masters degree in Physics (University of Florence, Italy) in 1995, Timoteo Carletti moved to mathematics eager to be able of modelling, analysing and understanding the natural processes he has been confronted during his studies in physics. He thus continued his training by enrolling in the mathematics doctoral school at the University of Florence (Italy) and at Institut de Mécanique Céleste et de calcul des Ephémérides (IMCCE) in Paris (France), where he finally defended his doctoral thesis in mathematics in 2000. Dynamical systems, chaos theory and numerical integration methods were now part of his research toolbox.
Because he believe that research does not have boundaries, disciplinary, geographical or cultural ones, he realised several postdoctoral research stays – including Paris XI (Paris, France), IMPA (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), « Scuola Normale Superiore » (Pisa, Italy), University of Padova (Italy) – with the goal of building a solid theoretical background in applied mathematics. Eventually he was hired as senior researcher in the framework of the European Project PACE FP6 (University of Venice, Italy).
Keen to have new challenges, in 2005 he moved to Belgium where he was hired at the University of Namur as a lecturer, then as a professor (2008), and finally as a Full Professor (2011) in the Department of applied Mathematics.
He actively contributed to the doctoral and postdoctoral training in the field of complex systems in Belgium, through its presidency of the Graduate School FNRS « COMPLEX » in the period 2011 – 2017.
Fabio Pinna holds a Master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Rome ‘La Sapienza’. After a brief stint at AVIO to work on the European Vega launcher, he moved to Belgium to attend the Diploma Course at the Von Karman Institute (VKI), to further specialize in fluid dynamics. He obtained a PhD in Aerospace Technology, also at ‘La Sapienza’ and the Von Karman Institute.
In 2017, Fabio Pinna became Associate Editor for Mathematics and Computers in Simulation journal for the IMACS Association, entering its Board of Directors as Treasurer in 2021. Since 2020 he is Co-founder and President of the Belgian chapter of AIRIcerca. In 2022, he completed a Master’s degree in Business and Administration at the Solvay Brussels School, undertaking a new position as technical project manager at Septentrio, dealing with GNSS (positioning) technology.