In October 2013, the USC School of Social Work (now the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work) and the Viterbi School of Engineering hosted an event for faculty in social work who were interested in technology and faculty in engineering who were interested in social problems. It was here that Eric Rice and Milind Tambe first met. They shared a mutual research interest in social network influence problems.
Within a couple of months, Eric and Milind were discussing regularly how they could maximize the data Eric and his team just finished collecting—HIV risk and prevention activities among several panels of social networks of homeless youth in Los Angeles. Quickly, Eric and Milind began working with their PhD students and colleagues to create an algorithm to identify the most efficient peers within a social network of homeless youth. In other words, who can an intervention target to yield the widest and most diverse spread of information and prosocial behavior? What started out as a problem focused on methamphetamine use evolved into how can we inform a large, potentially tangled network of homeless youth about the importance of HIV testing?