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Informatics team lands $1.85 million from Intel to study IT as social, cultural phenomena

A research group at Indiana University Bloomington's School of Informatics and Computing has received over $1.85 million to create the Intel Science and Technology Center for Social Computing. The award was announced by Intel Labs as part of a $12 million research center composed of faculty from IU and four other universities.

Associate professor Jeffrey Bardzell, assistant professor Shaowen Bardzell and professor Erik A. Stolterman, all of the School of Informatics and Computing, will collaborate with fellow researchers from University California Irvine, Cornell University, Georgia Tech and New York University in an exploration of information technology and digital media as social and cultural phenomena.

Stolterman, Erik

Erik A. Stolterman

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"This new research center is a quite extraordinary effort," Stolterman said. "The idea to examine the ongoing and growing digitalization of our society as social and cultural phenomena is highly needed but not often easy to get funded. It is exciting to be part of such a diverse set of leading researchers in this unique research center."

With UC Irvine acting as the host site, the center aims to create a new paradigm for computing and productive new research by a community of social scientists and technologists.

"What's unique about this grant is that it brings together researchers from an unusual array of disciplines -- anthropology, literature studies, design, sociology, media studies and philosophy, among others -- for a large-scale technology research project," Jeffrey Bardzell said. "Designing good experiences is a massive challenge, first because of the difficulties of understanding what 'experience' or 'good experience' is in the first place. Then we need to be able to understand how human-made works, from movies and novels to digital interactions, participate in such experiences; this is a problem that has occupied philosophers and critics for thousands of years. Finally, we have to be able to turn such understandings into actual designs. There's no book or known best practices on how to do this."

Bardzell, Jeffery

Jeffrey Bardzell

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Intel Corp. chief technology officer Justin Rattner said people's digital and social lives will become more and more intertwined over time, providing opportunities for innovation in areas such as how they relate to each other through data and how groups can utilize digital tools to engage with others to make changes in the world.

"Complementing Intel's acknowledged leadership in experience-driven innovation we have formed a multidisciplinary community of Intel, faculty and graduate student researchers from diverse fields to bridge the gap between technical and social disciplines to better advance each other's work," Rattner said.

This latest center completes Intel's five-year, $100 million ISTC program. As with the other six ISTCs -- covering big data, cloud computing, embedded computing, visual computing, secure computing and pervasive computing -- the new social computing center is designed to foster tighter collaboration between Intel and academia.

The work of the center is organized around five overlapping and interlocking themes:

  • The Materiality of Information: Re-thinking the nature of information as grounded in materials and physical objects.
  • Algorithmic Living: Implications of algorithms moving into social systems and daily life, invited or not.
  • Information Ecosystems: How people, values and systems interact and conflict at different scales.
  • Subjectivities of Information: Moving beyond "the user" as the center of user experience and user-centered design.
  • Creativity and Collectivity: How group production and patterns of making are changing what it is to be creative.
Shaowen Bardzell

Shaowen Bardzell

"The five research themes were all developed with the view that social and technical phenomena are deeply and complexly linked," Shaowen Bardzell said. "Instead of beginning with technical innovations and finding uses for them, which is the traditional computer science approach, and instead of starting with well-defined user needs and developing technologies to support them -- the traditional user-centered design approach -- these five themes recognize and embrace the complex relationships between technological development and adoption on the one hand, and large-scale socio-cultural phenomena on the other."

The three IU professors are specialists in the field of human-computer interaction design, an area of work that studies and supports the design, development and implementation of humanly usable and socially acceptable interactive devices, applications, services and systems.

Shaowen Bardzell specializes in socio-cultural computing, with an emphasis on emotional, intimate and embodied experiences, a series of research themes that contribute to the broader agenda of feminist human-computer interaction that she is developing. She is also an affiliated faculty member of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction.

Jeffrey Bardzell is known for developing a theory of interaction criticism. His other human-computer interaction specialties include aesthetic interaction, user experience design, amateur multimedia design theory and practice, and digital creativity.

Stolterman, also a professor of cognitive science, focuses his work on interaction design, philosophy and theory of design, information technology and society, information systems design, and philosophy of technology. In 2003, his book "The Design Way" received the Outstanding Book of the Year award from the Association for Educational Communications and Technology.

Originally published June 26, 2012.