Coming soon: exciting workshops aiming to connect qualitative and quantitative researchers interested in the future of technology!

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Aleksandra (Ola) Mihalec of the Department of Geography and Environmental Management and Mehdi Sobhani from the Bristol Robotics Laboratory recently secured interdisciplinary research funding from UWE Bristol’s Faculty of Environment and Technology for their project ‘Meeting machines: building capacity for interdisciplinary collaborations in emerging technologies research’. Ola tells us more about it in this guest post.

An innovative collaboration between social and physical scientists has received funding for capacity building activities across disciplines at UWE.

Aleksandra Michalec (human geographer) and Mehdi Sobhani (roboticist) have been recently awarded with seedcorn funding to organise and facilitate workshops which aim to bridge the gap between the scholars interested in emerging technologies.

The unprecedented development of artificial intelligence, robotics, social media, smart cities and augmented reality promise solutions to the issues like climate change, ageing society, future of work. Yet, without critical thinking, technology poses further risks to peace and democracy. In order to deliver ethical interventions addressing the global challenges, current research funding calls for further integration of physical and social scientists.

Nevertheless, an imperative of collaboration doesn’t really fit naturally with the traditional academic training. As researchers, we are often trained to be experts in our very narrow field – this leaves us wonderfully ignorant of the developments and inner workings of the other disciplines. For example, physical scientists typically build prototypes, design algorithms and conduct experiments, whereas social sciences problematise the “common knowledge”, critique the status quo, point at injustices, complexities and interdependencies.

Adding to that, universities are huge institutions. UWE alone spans four campuses, each with numerous buildings and endless hidden corridors. This doesn’t really help with fruitful networking. We have therefore realised that there is a demand for space to meet like-minded researchers and build ground for future research projects.

While the great discoveries usually start with a serendipitous meeting of brilliant minds, expert knowledge is not enough to work together effectively across the academic disciplines. We recognise that the researchers at UWE not only need a networking event, but would also benefit from learning about each other’s disciplines, methods and epistemologies – especially if we want to create collaborations between quantitative and qualitative folks.

In Spring 2019, look out for a series of workshops organised for those interested in emerging technologies. It doesn’t matter whether you are a political scientist, geographer, a mathematician or an engineer; it doesn’t matter how (un)experienced you are – if concepts like “machine learning”, “smart cities”, “social robots”, “automation” keep you awake at night, then look no further and meet your fellows!

During the workshops, we will be learning about each other’s approaches, priorities and biases.

We aim to bust myths about our own prejudices and, as a result, create a long-term community of technology researchers.

Attending the events will contribute to your professional development, broaden your horizons and open new doors to future interdisciplinary funding calls. Keep an eye on more information in early 2019! If you have any questions, please contact Aleksandra or Mehdi.

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