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Socio-Tech Futures Lab (STuF Lab)

Researching the futures of technology use
Examining the ways in which social, cultural and political dynamics influence the integration of technologies into everyday life, and how these forces are shaping and designing our futures.

We are exploring the challenges and opportunities of technologies for creating more inclusive, fair and equitable futures.

Contemporary developments associated with automation, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, data, next-generation internet, social and mobile media networks raise profound questions about the relationship between technology and society, and how these technologies are becoming integrated into everyday life in Australia and elsewhere. Yet the invention, design, implementation, and use of technology proceeds without such knowledge.

Addressing this gap requires bringing the humanities and social sciences to the table with other disciplines, community, industry, and policymakers researching and shaping technology.

The STuF Lab is an outcome of our earlier initiative, Our Machine, Our Selves. And through our signature project on Imagining Digital Sydney, we aim to establish the University of Sydney as a leader in addressing the social, ethical and inclusive challenges and opportunities of technology.

Our projects

This research analyses the uses of algorithms, or “bots”, for public lobbying campaigns, including for controversial policies and projects that militate against clear public interests. Industries selling risk-related commodities often suffer from a “legitimacy gap” that emerges from a divergence between what an organisation does and what the public expects of their activities. In response, organisations can turn to a rhetorical approach to issues management that seeks to defend them by attacking critical voices or by winning specific arguments in the marketplace of ideas. Over the past few years, such campaigns have increasingly moved from the mass media to social media in the pursuit of organisational goals. This research seeks to identify and analyse the alleged armies of bots campaigning for controversial industries, especially those associated with large-scale carbon pollution and tobacco commodities.

360 3D video is an exciting emerging media that has considerable potential for delivering powerful and persuasive messages, connecting people in new ways to complex and abstract ideas. In this project, we are developing and evaluating 3D videos (which provide users depth perception and consequently a greater sense of presence and closeness to the subject matter) to better understand the opportunities for virtual reality in schools and business contexts. Our initial project is in collaboration with Zoos Victoria, using footage shot inside animal enclosures to provide close-up encounters that connect visitors to animals and conservation messaging. The project aims to demonstrate the potential for these technologies and develop design guidelines for creating persuasive 3D content.

  • Project Team: Dr Marcus Carter, John Tonkin (Sydney College of the Arts), Sarah Webber
  • Partners: PHORIA, Zoos Victoria

Despite the increasing ubiquity of digital technology in similar social and educational contexts such as museums, modern zoos rarely employ technology to support their animal welfare and behavioural change goals. This is due to a lack of knowledge about how digital technology affects the "naturalistic" experience of modern zoos, and how to design and evaluate technology for animal use. This project develops and evaluates novel digital technologies to support the principal goals of contemporary zoos, ensure the welfare of animals in captivity, and act as leading conservation organisations by motivating behavioural change through connecting visitors with animals. Through explorative and pilot design projects such as digital enrichment for orangutans at Melbourne Zoo, and systems that automatically monitor giraffe welfare, our research seeks to contribute to the discussion of how zoos will be transformed by emerging technologies.

  • Project Team: Dr Marcus Carter; Professor Frank Vetere, University of Melbourne; Associate Professor Wally Smith, University of Melbourne; Sarah Webber, Zaher Joukhadar, Sally Sherwen, Zoos Victoria
  • Partner: Zoos Victoria

Algorithms are powerful forces in the mediation of everyday life. In concert with social dynamics and information logics, algorithms determine what we see and read, what we come to know about the world, and how we make decisions that affect our social and political life. The algorithmic systems that mediate our access to news and information on the internet are, however, largely obscured from public view – either because they are proprietary or because their effects in the world are determined by the complex social and economic forces to which they are indelibly linked. This makes critical analysis difficult, albeit impossible, using traditional research methods. This project continues to pilot research projects that investigate the algorithmic mediation of online news flows through the development of new digital methods inspired by human-computer interaction.

  • Project Team: Dr Jonathon Hutchinson, The University of Sydney; Dr Heather Ford, UNSW
  • Partner: Australian Broadcasting Corporation

This project charts dramatic developments in the way news is produced and consumed online and to account for this in public policy designed to promote media pluralism. We aim to advance knowledge by testing European approaches regarded in the literature as "world’s best" against a series of innovative news practices, including through a big-data approach to collecting media content. Expected outcomes include a shift in public policy reliance on ownership and control to a more nuanced understanding of diversity based on the role of news and comment. Significant social and economic benefits could result from more targeted regulatory interventions and from greater access to news content and wider engagement with public affairs.

  • Project team: Associate Professor Timothy Dwyer The University of Sydney; Professor Derek Wilding, UTS; Dr Saba Bebabwi, UTS; Dr Jonathon Hutchinson, The University of Sydney; Dr Kari Kappinen, University of Helsinki
  • Partner: European Centre for Media Pluralism and Freedom
  • Funding: ARC Discovery Project

This project provides insights on automated media and the creation of so-called informed publics across social media. We aim to generate new knowledge about platforms such as YouTube and Instagram that privilege influential user content which can sway important public-issue conversations. Expected outcomes include new insights into social-media influencers, knowledge of automated media driven by algorithms, and an operational framework for media organisations engaging with automated media (especially public service media). Drawing on human-computer interactions and the social sciences, we aim to develop digital media tools to assess the social value of automated media beyond vanity metrics (likes and followers) to facilitate informed conversations between citizens.

  • Project Team: Dr Jonathon Hutchinson, The University of Sydney; Dr Cornelius Puschmann, Hans Bredow Institute; Dr Jan Schmidt, Hans Bredow Institute; Dr Jannick Sørrensen, Aalborg University

The increasing online abuse of women journalists not only causes them psychological and physical harms, but can result in loss of income and employment, loss of speech freedoms and reduced participation in society. Women often don’t report digital threats or abuse for fear of public shaming, professional backlash or loss of work, or due to distrust of judicial processes. Most media organisations are not equipped to deal with gendered digital attacks and lack policies to address them. This project seeks to understand and counter online abuse of women journalists across various countries in the Asian region by tracking, documenting and analysing the gendered violence women journalists experience; explore the political, social and cultural origins of this abuse and the platform affordances that make it possible; and develop culturally relevant strategies to address it.

  • Project Team: Dr Fiona Martin, Chief Investigaor, The University of Sydney; Colleen Murrell, Swinburne; Andrea Baker, Monash; Cait McMahon, DART Asia Pacific; Lynda Garcia, Miriam College
  • Research partners: International Association of Women in Radio and Television, Asian Broadcasting Union

This project investigates the regulatory and policy implications of understanding global digital communication platforms as media companies. Responding to ongoing public concern about how these companies manage online networking and social media, this project will explore regulatory approaches to mediating abusive, offensive, defamatory and potentially illegal digital content. It will develop detailed recommendations for reform based on international case studies, enabling media policymakers to more effectively regulate digital media platforms to better align with contemporary public interest rationales.

  • Project Team: Terry Flew, Project Leader, QUT; Dr Fiona Martin, Chief Investigator, The University of Sydney; Associate Professor Tim Dwyer, Chief Investigor, The University of Sydney; Nic Suzor, QUT; Philip Napoli, Duke University; Josef Trappel, Salzburg (based at QUT)
  • Research Partner: Australian Community Managers Network
  • Funding: ARC Discovery Project

Smart cities are starting to materialise in urban environments, unevenly and in various forms. The placement of sensors, chargers, digital screens and wi-fi points in streetscapes and objects interacts with people’s relationships to the urban environment, to one another and to services accessed in daily life. Part media, part furniture – these hybrids are thoroughly interconnected with the city itself. This project builds on preliminary research investigating the social, design and governance implications of smart street furniture. Through a series of cross-institution and multidisciplinary workshops and research case studies (smart benches in London and InLinks in Glasgow), we will scope, research and historically contextualise smart street furniture to understand whether and how these depart from and challenge values, uses and governance frameworks of pre-existing urban forms, remaking publics and cities in the process.

Read more about this project.

  • Project Team: Justine Humphry, Chief Investigator, The University of Sydney; Bridgette Wessels, Chief Investigator, University of Glasgow; Dr Sophia Maalsen, Collaborator, The University of Sydney; Dr Chris Chesher, Collaborator, The University of Sydney; Professor Robyn Dowling, Adviser, The University of Sydney; Professor Heather Horst, Adviser, The Univesrity of Sydney; Professor Gerard Goggin, Adviser and Collaborator, The University of Sydney; Peter Merrington, Collaborator, University of Glasgow; Justine Gangneux, Collaborator; Simon Joss, Collaborator; Matthew Hanchard, Collaborator

The increasing integration of robotic technologies into everyday life has recently received attention by scholars in anthropology, media studies, cultural studies, social robotics and cultural robotics. Approaches in these disciplines examine the relationships between the fantastic representations of robots and artificial intelligence (AI) in popular culture, the everyday experiences of robotic technologies, and the institutionalised contexts of robot design, engineering and marketing. This project, based on a collaboration with the University's Centre for Robotics and Intelligent Systems in the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies, brings together researchers in science and technology studies, robotics, business and digital cultures at the University of Sydney to consider emerging meanings, associations and practices within the social construction of robotic and AI technologies in the context of everyday adoption and adaptation.

Project Team: Naoko Abe, Chief Investigator; Chris Chesher, Principal Investigator; Justine Humphry, Principal Investigator; Jolynna Sinanan, Principal Investigator; Kai Reimer, Principal Investigator; Mike Seymour, Principal Investigator; Arisa Ema, Principal Investigator

Data has become a key part of our everyday social, material and technological environments. It is implicated in how we interpret our environments and our bodies, and in how we conduct our relationships with others. This raises a fundamental question about what it means to live in such a world. The Living with Data project looks at the ways in which we live with data, the ways in which we experience data, and the contested forms of value that data might have in the world, for individuals, families, institutions and organisations. Through fine-grained attention to the ways in which households live with digital materials, this project considers the consequences of data in our everyday lives.

Upcoming events

Explore a comprehensive list of Media@Sydney seminars, register for events and subscribe to our mailing list.

Featuring: Professor Gerard Goggin

3pm-4.30pm
MECO Seminar Room S226
John Woolley Building A20
The University of Sydney

Previous events

Friday 29 March 2019: De/Reconstructing home: Notions of home and homelessness in times of mobile media, Professor Maren Hartmann, University of Arts, Berlin

Friday 15 March 2019: Automated decision making in society, Professor Julian Thomas, RMIT University

Thursday 7 March 2019: Digital rights in an age of surveillance AI, panel with Professor Melvin Chen, Nanyang Technological University; Dr Theresa Züger, Humboldt University; and Karaitiana Tairu, Christchurch

Monday 22 October 2018: Design ethics and the age of conversational AI, panel with Professor Nick Enfield; Professor Rafael Calvo; Professor Jean-Claude Martin; and Professor Virginia Dignum

Tuesday 13 July 2018: Custodians of the internet: Platforms, content moderation, and the hidden decisions that shape social media, Dr Tarleton Gillespie, Microsoft Research

Friday 5 October 2018: Digital housekeeping: Living with data, Professor Heather Horst, The University of Sydney; and Jolynna Sinanan, The University of Sydney (part of the Gender and Cultural Studies Seminar Series)

Friday 12 October 2018: Political participation on social, civic and computer networks, Francesco Bailo, The University of Sydney

Postgraduate opportunities

The Socio-Tech Futures Lab is coordinating an interdisciplinary higher degree research discussion group. Open to University of Sydney honours and postgraduate students, the group discusses works in progress on related topics and connects students with vising scholars for masterclasses, mentorship and research collaborations.

If you would like to be added to the STuF Discussion Group mailing list, please contact: marcus.carter@sydney.edu.au

We are currently recruiting PhD students interested in conducting projects on:

The specific nature of these projects will be developed in consultation with the prospective student and identified supervisor(s). Prospective candidates are not required to have advanced technical literacy in their chosen topic area, although – depending upon the project – an openness to learning these is always welcome.

Contact us

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  • Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences The Quadrangle A14, the University of Sydney NSW 2006, AUSTRALIA

Co-director

Headshot of Professor Heather Horst
Professor Heather Horst
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Co-director

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Dr Marcus Carter
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Co-director

Headshot of Professor Gerard Goggin
Professor Gerard Goggin
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