Careers: Interviews
Jon Kleinberg: 2008 ACM-Infosys Foundation Award Recipient, Past Multiple Awards Recipient, 2008 Discover Magazine's "20 Best Brains Under 40", 2005 MacArthur Fellow, Member of the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Internationally Noted Cornell Professor and Researcher, Celebrated Teacher

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, FCIPS, I.S.P., ITCP, MVP, DF/NPA, CNP has an exclusive interview with Jon Kleinberg.

Jon KleinbergJon Kleinberg received his AB from Cornell University in 1993 and his PhD from MIT in 1996. He subsequently spent a year as a Visiting Scientist at the IBM Almaden Research Center before joining the Computer Science Department at Cornell University, where he currently holds the position of Tisch University Professor. His research focuses on issues at the interface of networks and information, with an emphasis on the social and information networks that underpin the Web and other on-line media. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and serves on the Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) Advisory Committee of the National Science Foundation, and the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (CSTB) of the National Research Council. He is the recipient of an NSF CAREER Award, an ONR Young Investigator Award, research fellowships from the MacArthur, Packard, and Sloan Foundations, the Nevanlinna Prize from the International Mathematical Union, and the National Academy of Sciences Award for Initiatives in Research.

To listen to the interview, click on this MP3 file link

The latest blog on the interview can be found in the IT Managers Connection (IMC) forum where you can provide your comments in an interactive dialogue.


Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic

:00:57: Jon shares when he heard about this honour as recipient of the ACM-Infosys Foundation Award, how he felt at the time and the reaction from his colleagues and his family.

:02:03: Describe your journey into computing from your youth up to the present. What foundational lessons did you learn from this journey? Why were you initially attracted to computing?
"....I'm part of the generation that was in junior high school when the Apple 2 and personal computers first appeared in the early 1980's. I think a lot of us were excited by the ability to create new things and this technology that allowed simultaneously mathematical reasoning and creative expression...."

:03:06: What were the major challenges that you faced during your career and how did you overcome them? Which challenges still exist today and can you outline others that are new?
"....One thing I have come to appreciate throughout my career is that science is an enterprise that involves a community working together, and that really tries to work together to bring new people into the field. Research is a very challenging activity where it very much helps to have access to a community and people who can help to mentor in that way...."

:04:22: You mentioned that you did some studies with IBM - can you elaborate on that?
"....That is where I began working very actively on the question of web search, and more generally how we can take algorithms that operate on networks and use that to help us understand how information is organized - how it is organized on the web and how people access it more generally by taking advantage of its network structure...."

:05:02: Tell us more about your vision and objectives behind your current roles? What do you hope to accomplish and how will you bring this about?
"....Computing has a huge impact on the world and we need to be attentive in the research community to what these emerging challenges are and think about ways of working on them..."

:08:47:  You have received many honors and awards for your work. Can you describe each and the underlying research and its implications in an overview way?
"....If you think about it collectively - this focusing of attention on a broad group of researchers (of which I'm a part), who are interested in this emerging theme in computer science. It starts with core issues in computing (like algorithm, networks, and information), and then thinks about how the new kinds of online systems that are being built change the way that we have to work with all those concepts and how we can use fundamental computational ideas to create new applications in this space...."

:11:30: With so many honours for your work, how do they contribute to your vision for: business, industry, governments, academia, research, media, society, technology and internationally?
"....One thing that awards can do is to focus attention on a particular area or topic. I try to use the opportunity that they present to help try to inform people about what it is that computing has been able to accomplish for society and the economy - to spread the ideas of computing to a broader audience. I think awards also help to create connections between academia and the industrial world...."

:12:30: Jon tells us more about his work concerning the Web.

:14:48: Your achievements demonstrate your work as founder and international leader in social network analysis. Can you share more about what this means?
"....Social network analysis is an area that reaches back quite a long time and has been a very active area in sociology, anthropology and other disciplines in the social sciences. When computer scientists began thinking about this in the late 1990's we had a lot of expertise to draw on. There are two issues going on here. One is why are computer scientists drawn to this?....The second point is because of all this data the kinds of social network questions that you ask are related but somewhat distinct from what sociologists would have....The interesting challenge now is to try to combine these two sets of research..."

:18:05: Can you profile your current research, its challenges, opportunities, and implications?
"....I think there are some interesting themes here. One is in aggregate the quadrants of information can produce very interesting patterns and collective traces. Secondly the social effects are going to become important design principles for big informational threads like Wikipedia or Flickr, etc....They have both technological and social mechanisms working together so in computer science we are going to have to think about design principles that incorporate some of these....The final interesting question is that by its very nature, research has a large stockpile of information and that raises questions about privacy...."

:21:41: You are dubbed the "Rebel King" by students. How did this come about?
"....It's an anagram of my last name...It's a reflection of the fact that Cornell students, in addition to working very hard, tend to have fun - not just fun outside of classes but work fun. That is one of the reasons it is so much fun to teach at Cornell - it's a very enjoyable experience and a very intellectually stimulating one...."

:22:36 Can you sum up your course on Networks?
"....The course on Networks that I've been co-teaching with David Easley (Economics department) was in part created to try conveying to students some of the ideas that we've been talking about....In parts of the world that are highly inter-connected, one needs simultaneous perspectives from computing and mathematics, economics, sociology and a number of disciplines that thought that highly linked structures and also the behavior of one person or group can affect the outcome of everybody...."

:25:01: What do you hope to accomplish with your new book coming out in 2010?
"....To let it serve as a roadmap eventually and have it as a resource for people who may not be on college campuses but are working in the industry...."

:27:39: How would you describe your top innovative achievements in terms of the problems you were trying to solve, your solutions, and the impact it has today and into the future?
"....To try to articulate design principles for this new generation of computer and information systems which are going to have to take technological and social effects into account. The hope is to allow people to have new ways of interacting with information, and new ways of having communities online, and ultimately new ways of grouping together large groups of people together to try to accomplish tasks. To try to get work done in a massively distributed way which was not possible previously...."

:30:41: Over your distinguished career, what are your top lessons you want to share with the broad audience?
"....Try to keep an open mind about topics and areas going on....It's much easier to make progress on a problem when you are enjoying what you are doing. In addition to finding work that is important, find work that has some personal interest for you....I've benefited from a lot of mentoring throughout my career. I think it's important to pass it on to the next generation and work in a mentoring capacity or a teaching capacity with people entering the field...."

:32:28: Please make your top predictions for the future, their implications, and how executives and IT professionals can best prepare?
"....The increasing ways in which we use tools like search and our personal information repositories are like an intellectual prosthetic....we have this information now almost in real time and continuously. I think it's going to have interesting implications on ways that people go about problem-solving in their everyday life....At the level of people interacting with other people there are some interesting opportunities here for people in general around the world to take advantage of the web and the internet to really become increasingly aware of people in different parts of the world and in other cultures....One can hope that the effect of this global communication is: inevitably we are going to be bumping into people who are very different from ourselves and interacting with them could potentially have a very positive effect...."

:34:48: Jon shares his thoughts on web science and machine learning.

:36:34: Jon, you laid many of the pillars for modern-day social network analysis and web search as one of the top groundbreaking visionary innovators. How do you wish to continue to shape the world and contribute to the fabric of history?
"....I find it exciting to be part of this field at this particular point in time because I think computing information is becoming increasingly relevant to many of society's most important problems. Things like access to education, healthcare, the world's food supply, problem solving in energy and the environment. All these are things that computing information can help provide creative solutions for....It's really exciting to be at this point in time where the area you are working in can contribute to truly novel solutions to these kinds of problems...."

:37:28: You've already touched upon this already but what do you see as the top challenges facing us today and how do you propose they be solved?
"....we are in this world where what goes on in one place can have a very rapid and significant effect on what goes on in many other places around the world...Computing and information technology - just by the nature of fact that it is globally connected - makes information from around the world accessible and sometimes eases communication in the formation of groups from very diverse backgrounds from all over the world....It is the hope that it will eventually create a greater level of communication and understanding on how our individual actions contribute to a more global outcome...."

:40:12: What groups are underrepresented in computing and how can this be addressed?
"....Here at Cornell we are broadening the ways of getting into the field of computing. So rather than having a single point of entry through an introductory course, having many types of introductory courses having different styles that will appeal to people with a mix of different possible interests...."

:42:33: Jon shares some interesting thoughts from his work and experiences.

:44:08: If you were conducting this interview, what questions would you ask, and then what would be your answers?
"....When people come here to Cornell it is a tradition to take them out for coffee and to ask them....What excites them in their work?....Where do they see the field going?....What lessons can we learn from the style in which they work?.....(You've done a great job asking all these types of questions)...."


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