Rodriguez among LANL’s next generation of scientists

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By Roger Snodgrass

Marko Rodriguez has had a mouse in his hand since he was 8 years old.

“All my life I have been on a computer,” he said.

He earned his PhD in computer science two years ago at the University of California, Santa Cruz.  Now, among his many appellations he can describe himself as a director’s postdoctoral fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Center for Non-Linear Studies where he is also associated with the lab’s Applied Mathematics and Plasma Physics group in the Theoretical Division.

It’s a job that suits him well because it provides a kind of freedom to explore some extraordinary ideas.

Last week he gave a talk at a national risk analysis symposium in Pojoaque on large-scale knowledge management.  Using graph databases to store huge volumes of interrelated informational structures is kind of his bread and butter.

He was a collaborator on a paper that was widely reported nationally last month by his colleague and mentor Johan Bollen on “Maps of Knowledge” that tracked the “clickstream” of a billion clicks from a broad sampling of scientific portals, a new way of perceiving more immediately what is happening in the technical universe.

But don’t try to pin him down yet.

He’s also a businessman, co-founder and chief information officer of Knowledge Reef Systems. That’s a start-up company with a grubstake from venture capitalists to develop and market an advanced network platform that accelerates the discovery process among schools of scholars and researchers. At the end of last year, he was recognized as one of the lab’s most promising young entrepreneurs.

“All my stuff relates very well to itself,” he said in one of several recent conversations.

The difference between his stuff and other people’s stuff is that his is addressable in key words like “computational eudaimonics,” which is both a very fancy but philosophically-precise way of talking about using computers in pursuit of perfect well-being.

That may sound a little over the top, but Rodriguez put it like this:

“I’m kind of engrossed with ethics, eudaimonia, the perfect life, and how government should behave toward citizens, taking a world that is and making it into a world that ought; from should be to are.”  

One of his papers still in pre-print, written with his partner Jennifer Watkins earlier this year, is about revisiting social ideals articulated during the 18th century enlightenment in Western Europe and America.

The period flourished into an intellectual beachhead for a highly evolved sense of reason. It enabled Thomas Jefferson to consider “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” as essential values in the Declaration of Independence.

Rodriguez and Watkins take a cue from an inscription on the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. from Jefferson, who wrote, “…institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened…institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times.”

Adding Thomas Paine’s principles for representative government, Adam Smith’s sense of the role of competition in defining the common good, and Marquis de Condorcet’s mathematical calculus for optimal judgment, Rodriguez and Watkins start to piece together a new political foundation that is both familiar and frighteningly utopian for an age where we already have our hands full trying to manage dystopia, the opposite side of paradise. Power it up with a wiki, the collaborative model epitomized by Wikipedia. Create a next generation open collaborative system, tuned up for lawmaking and mutual self-government and before long politicians will be upstaged, automated and looking for work.

That’s not all there is to it, of course. The Wiki-legislature won’t be here tomorrow. Trying to keep Knowledge Reef going in this economy is going to be a struggle right now, Rodriguez said. But for someone not yet 30, it’s not a bad start.

He and Watkins are off to go surfing next week.

That’s surfing on a beach in Indonesia.

“I like ideas,” Rodriguez says. “When something gets me, I’ll try to represent that in my world.”