A workshop that brings together engineers, computer scientists and social researchers to discuss alternative approaches to bridging research traditions on the evolution of technology, and how that evolution influences, and is influenced by, society.

The Oxford Internet Institute (OII) at the University of Oxford and the Program on Emerging Technologies (PoEt) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), with the support of the Cambridge-MIT Institute, are convening a workshop that brings together engineers, computer scientists and social researchers to discuss alternative approaches to bridging research traditions on the evolution of technology and how that evolution influences, and is influenced by, society.

The workshop will seek to:

  • Advance multi-disciplinary research on the social implications of emerging technology

  • Assess the effects of public responses to anticipated social implications on private economic investments in emerging technologies

  • Enable new collaborative possibilities, across disciplines and institutions

  • Encourage more empirical research of emerging technologies

  • Generate new approaches or perspectives on the study of emerging technologies

  • Foster collaboration between European and North American research and training institutions

Collaboration across social science and other related disciplines is a major challenge in conducting research examining the broad outcomes of technical innovations in complex, multi-faceted and interconnected engineered systems like the Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICTs). Much value can therefore be gained by bringing complementary and competing perspectives to bear on issues of common concern, such as approaches to understanding the societal implications of emerging technologies.

Specialists in social science, engineering, and computing science – as well as in disciplines crucially affected by technological innovation — generally have a poor track record in forecasting technical change and its social implications. Nevertheless, those designing and building new technologies make explicit and implicit assumptions about the social consequences of their developments. These assumptions on implications often drive public policies that in turn inhibit or encourage private investments in the development of new technologies. Although social scientists are equipped with theories and methods for studying how societal forces shape and are shaped by technical change, there are major disputes across disciplines and sub-disciplines. The workshop will explore how these disciplinary divisions can be bridged.

To achieve their aims, the workshop’s convenors will invite academics who have not only conducted high-quality research on emerging technologies within a variety of disciplinary viewpoints, but are open to multi-disciplinary collaboration and skilled in communicating across areas. It will be anchored in two days of discussion among about two dozen academics, encompassing a broad range of disciplinary and methodological perspectives beyond the social sciences, including engineering, computer science, futures studies, law, cultural studies, and new media. Researchers using both qualitative and quantitative methods will be invited.

Discussion will be grounded in specific emerging technologies, such as embedded sensor networks and advanced Internet technologies, and in their application in activities ranging from e-science and e-social science to everyday life and learning. Participants will be asked to prepare brief (1-3 page) position papers that cover one or both of the following:

  • Emerging technologies that the workshop should discuss in detail, along with a brief rationale for this choice

  • Specific approaches to the study of emerging technologies, such as the use of particular qualitative or quantitative empirical research, formal theory, or various approaches to futures research

The papers could, for example, highlight the particular significance of social implications of the technology or especially challenging research issues. The convenors will use the position papers as input to organising the workshop’s agenda and to identify participants to initiate focused discussions during the event. Suggestions or recommendations that emerge from the discussions and position papers will be articulated and followed-up.

Agenda: http://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/collaboration/specialevents/20050415_agenda.pdf

Position Papers: http://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/collaboration/specialevents/20050415_positionpapers.pdf

This workshop is supported by the Cambridge-MIT Institute, a British initiative designed to promote industry-university knowledge exchange.