EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Enhancing Human Interactions and Collaborations with Data and Intelligence Driven Systems

Lead Research Organisation: Swansea University
Department Name: College of Science

Abstract

The Centre's themes align with the 'Towards A Data Driven Future' and 'Enabling Intelligence' priority areas, meeting the needs identified by UKRI to provide a highly skilled - and in demand - workforce focused on ensuring positive, human-centred benefits accrued from innovations in data driven and intelligence-based systems.

The Centre has a distinct and methodologically challenging "people-first" perspective: unlike an application-orientated approach (where techniques are applied to neatly or simplistically defined problems, sometimes called "solutionism"), this lens will ensure that intense, multi-faceted and iterative explorations of the needs, capabilities and values of people, and wider societal views, challenge and disrupt computational science. In a world of big data and artificial intelligence, the precious smallness of real individuals with their values and aspirations are easily overlooked. Even though the impact of data-driven approaches and intelligence are only beginning to be felt at a human scale, there are already signs of concern over what these will mean for life, with governments and others worldwide addressing implications for education, jobs, safety and indeed even what is unique in being human. Sociologists, economists and policy makers of course have a role in ensuring positive outcomes for people and society of data-driven and intelligence systems; but, computational scientists have a pivotal duty too. Our viewpoint, then, will always see the human as a first-class citizen in the future physical-digital world, not perceiving themselves as outwitted, devalued or marginalised by the expanding capabilities of machine computation, automation and communication.

Swansea and the wider region of Wales is a place and community where new understandings of data science and machine intelligence are being formed within four challenging contexts defined in the Internet Coast City Deal: Life Science and Well-being; Smart Manufacturing; Smart and Sustainable Energy; and Economic Acceleration. Studies commissioned by the City Deal and BEIS evidence the science and innovation strengths in Swansea and region in these areas and indicate how transformational investments in these areas will be for the region and the UK. Our Centre will, then, immerse cohorts in these contexts to challenge them methodologically and scientifically. The use of data-driven and intelligence systems in each of the four contexts gives rise to security, privacy and wider ethical, legal, governance and regulatory issues and our Centre also has a cross-cutting theme to train students to understand, accommodate and shape current and future developments in these regards.

Cohort members will work to consider how the Centre's challenge themes direct and drive their thinking about data and intelligence, benefitting from both the multidisciplinary team that have built strong research agendas and connections with each of the contexts and the rich set of stakeholders that are our Centre has assembled. Importantly, a process of pivoting between challenge themes will be applied: insights, methods and challenges from one theme and its research projects will be tested and extended in others with the aim of enriching all. These, along with several other mechanisms (such as intra- and inter-cohort sandpits and side projects) are designed to develop a powerful bonding and shaping "cohort effect".

The need for and value of our Centre is evidenced by substantial external industrial investment we have have secured: £1,750,000 of cash and £4,136,050 in-kind (total:£5,886,050). These partners and stakeholders have helped create the vision and detail of the proposal and include: Vint Cerf ("father of the internet" and Vice President of Google); NHS; Pfizer; Tata Steel; Ford; QinetiQ; McAfee; Ordnance Survey; Facebook; IBM; Microsoft; Fujitsu; Worshipful Company of IT Spiritual and Ethical Panel; and, Vicki Hanson (CEO, Association of Computing Machinery).

Planned Impact

The Centre will nurture 55 new PhD researchers who will be highly sought after in technology companies and application sectors where data and intelligence based systems are being developed and deployed. We expect that our graduates will be nationally in demand for two reasons: firstly, their training occurs in a vibrant and unique environment exposing them to challenging domains and contexts (that provide stretch, ambition and adventure to their projects and capabilities); and, secondly, because of the particular emphasis the Centre will put on people-first approaches. As one of the Google AI leads, Fei-Fei Li, recently put it, "We also want to make technology that makes humans' lives better, our world safer, our lives more productive and better. All this requires a layer of human-level communication and collaboration" [1]. We also expect substantial and attractive opportunities for the CDT's graduates to establish their careers in the Internet Coast region (Swansea Bay City Deal) and Wales. This demand will dovetail well with the lifetime of the Centre and provide momentum for its continuation after the initial EPSRC investment.

With the skills being honed in the Centre, the UK will gain a important competitive advantage which will be a strong talent based-pull, drawing in industrial investment to the UK as the recognition of and demand for human-centred interactions and collaborations with data and intelligence multiplies. Further, those graduates who wish to develop their careers in the academy will be a distinct and needed complement to the likely increased UK community of researchers in AI and big data, bringing both an ability to lead insights and innovation in core computer science (e.g., in HCI or formal methods) allied to talents to shape and challenge their research agenda through a lens that is human-centred and that involves cross-disciplinarity and co-creation.

The PhD training will be the responsibility of a team which includes research leaders in the application of big data and AI in important UK growth sectors - from health and well being to smart manufacturing - that will help the nation achieve a positive and productive economy. Our graduates will tackle impactful challenges during their training and be ready to contribute to nationally important areas from the moment they begin the next steps of their careers. Impact will be further embedded in the training programme with cohorts involved in projects that directly involve communities and stakeholders within our rich innovation ecology in Swansea and the Bay region who will co-create research and participate in deployments, trials and evaluations.

The Centre will also impact by providing evidence of and methods for integrating human-centred approaches within areas of computational science and engineering that have yet to fully exploit their value: for example, while process modelling and verification might seem much removed from the human interface, we will adapt and apply methods from human-computer interaction, one of our Centre's strengths, to develop research questions, prototyping apparatus and evaluations for such specialisms. These valuable new methodologies, embodied in our graduates, will impact on the processes adopted by a wide range of organisations we engage with and who our graduates join.

Finally, as our work is fully focused on putting the human first in big data and intelligent systems contexts, we expect to make a positive contribution to society's understandings of and involvement with these keystone technologies. We hope to reassure, encourage and empower our fellow citizens, and those globally, that in a world of "smart" technology, the most important ingredient is the human experience in all its smartness, glory, despair, joy and even mundanity.

[1] https://www.technologyreview.com/s/609060/put-humans-at-the-center-of-ai/

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