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Nathanael Fast to Lead Neely Center

The new director of the USC Marshall Neely Center for Ethical Leadership and Decision Making talks about his role and vision for the Center.

October 25, 2022
Nate Fast
Nathanael Fast, the Jorge Paulo and Susanna Lemann Chair in Entrepreneurship, and an associate professor of management and organization, has been named the director of the Neely Center for Ethical Leadership and Decision Making.

Nathanael Fast, the Jorge Paulo and Susanna Lemann Chair in Entrepreneurship, and an associate professor of management and organization, has been named the director of the Neely Center for Ethical Leadership and Decision Making.

In this new role, Fast hopes to place Neely at the center of some of the most profound questions facing society today – humankind’s place and relationship to rapidly evolving technology and the ethical implications of its impact on our behaviors and long-term future.

“Our Neely Center is convening academic and business leaders to assess the profound ethical implications of advanced technologies,” said Marshall Dean Geoff Garrett.

“Our vision for the Neely Center is to become a leading voice on decision making about new technology,” said Fast, who is a globally noted scholar on organizational hierarchies and power structures. “At USC Marshall we work to help business leaders, technologists, and decision makers find the key questions and insights necessary to succeed in a world where dealing with tough questions about technology is unavoidable.”

Fast also sees the role as an opportunity to position Marshall as an impartial convener of thought leadership on these issues, a place for healthy debate about the pros and cons of emerging tech.

Marshall is a business school, so we have an opportunity to be in that middle ground, where we’re really excited about the potential of these technologies for business, we’re optimistic about what they can do for society, but we’re also cautious about the effects and take a long-term approach to making sure these technologies are being used wisely.”

The Center’s research and activities are supported in part with a $750K Knight Foundation grant. The Neely Center was created in 2015 thanks to a generous endowment by USC Trustee Jerry Neely and his wife Nancy.

As director, Fast will oversee the mission of the center, which includes research, education, and events that will illuminate three areas of critical importance: social media and its effects on societal health; the use of AI to manage people; and the emerging metaverse.

Among its initiatives, the Center aims to create a “social media well-being index” that will track user experiences across social media platforms. In a second area, scholars will study how decision-making algorithms affect organizations, and how employees respond to HR decisions using such tools. Fast also has plans to bring in the best interdisciplinary minds to discuss the so-called metaverse and identify opportunities and risks early on in its development.

“There's a real opportunity for Marshall and the broader USC community to be at the center of some really important conversations about our future,” he said.

The Psychology of Tech

A large part of what the Neely Center will be doing is research that advances the scientific knowledge of the psychology of technology.

The Neely Center will work in partnership with the Psychology of Technology Institute, co-founded by Fast and UC Berkeley professor Juliana Schroeder. This nonprofit institute is a network of interdisciplinary scholars from multiple universities doing research and supporting work that can shed light on and improve the human-technology relationship.

“The psychology of technology refers to the psychological factors that lead people to adopt and use technologies in certain ways,” said Fast. “And, on the flip side, it speaks to how these new technologies we are adopting into society shape human psychology – our decision-making, how we view the world, our ability to trust each other and so on.”

“It’s almost impossible to make wise decisions about our uses of technology without understanding that two-way relationship,” he said.