Sep Kamvar is the LG Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at MIT, and the Director of the Social Computing Group at the MIT Media Lab. His research focuses on social computing and information management.
Prior to MIT, Sep was the head of personalization at Google and a consulting professor of Computational and Mathematical Engineering at Stanford University. Prior to that, he was founder and CEO of Kaltix, a personalized search company that was acquired by Google in 2003.
Sep is the author of two books and over 40 technical publications and patents in the fields of search and social computing. He is on the technical advisory boards of several companies, including Clever Sense and Etsy. His artwork has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Victoria and Albert Musem in London, and the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens.
Sep received his Ph.D. in Scientific Computing and Computational Mathematics from Stanford University and his A.B. in Chemistry from Princeton University.
Over the last several years, the web has changed dramatically, both in the amount of content available and the nature of such content. The web has become larger, more social, more real-time, and less document-centric. People, streams, and conversations are joining sites, pages, and hyperlinks as its basic building blocks.
This change in the qualitative nature of data on the web brings both the opportunity and necessity for new paradigms in information retrieval.
Historically, the field of information retrieval has been centrally concerned with queries and documents. I am interested in developing models for information retrieval that focus on the people behind the queries and documents. This involves research challenges in areas as diverse as numerical linear algebra to human-computer interaction. My work fits into four themes: Social Search, Social Data Mining, Personalized Search, and Peer-to-Peer Search.
More specifically, I am interested in developing search technologies where questions are answered by people rather than documents (social search), that extract and summarize information about people (social data mining), where the results are dependent not just on the query but also on the person issuing the query (personalized search), and where distributed algorithms are modeled on human social norms for reputation and sharing (peer-to-peer search).
The biggest advances in search occur when new data is matched by new technologies designed for that data (for example, with hyperlinks and PageRank). As the web becomes richer in social data and infrastructure, social information processing systems will be an increasingly important source of new knowledge. My focus is on developing the next generation of these systems.
Through the social web, ordinary people express themselves more publicly and permanently than ever before. The words and pictures that people leave on their blogs and social networks as they communicate their daily thoughts and emotions give the raw material to create mosaics of humanity, to explore aspects of human nature through the eyes of millions of everyday people.
In addition to a source for material, the web also offers an opportunity as an art medium. Historically, the early uses of any new media have been primarily utilitarian, and it is not until later that they have been adopted by the arts -- canvas was first used for sails and signs; photography, for portraiture. The history of the web has been as an information technology. As an art medium, the web is very exciting -- a work of art on the web can reach millions of people at the same time, has the ability to constantly change, and can interact with its audience in a more tangible way than other media, to the point of allowing its audience to contribute to the art piece itself.
These two opportunities, the web as an information source for humanity, and the web as an accessible, dynamic, and interactive medium, are the basis for my artwork.