I am currently Co-Director of the Institute of Social Futures (ISF) at the University of Lancaster and Professor of Computer Science at the same institution. Amongst other endeavours at the ISF, I am Principal Investigator on a Leverhulme Trust doctoral training centre on Material Social Futures. This entails looking at the relationship between new material forms of computing and energy production and the social arrangements they enable. Key to this research is seeking a balance between material possibility and environmental impact.
Previously, I have led research groups at Xerox (Euro) Parc and Microsoft, and was the director and founder of The Digital World Research Centre at the University of Surrey. I have founded and jointly led start-up companies with clients that have included Hewlett Packard, Vodafone, and Stora Enso, and continue to consult for many of the world’s most ambitious companies through Social Shaping Research (Cambridge). I am a Fellow of the IET and of the Royal Society of Arts. In 2014, the ACM elected me a Fellow of its Academy in honour of leadership in the field of Human-Computer Interaction. I am currently a Visiting Professor in the College of Science at the University of Swansea, Wales.
Though engaged with making the world through technology, my activities have always been driven in the first instance by an interest in human affairs. My career has allowed me to investigate a whole range of these. I have studied air traffic controllers, the police, and economists at the International Monetary Fund; I have looked at the life of the homeless young in Cambridge and how programmers in Seattle motivate themselves towards producing the latest AI applications. I have looked at family life and the use of ‘smart home’ technologies in England and North America and, by way of contrast, how people with much lower incomes keep in touch in the Townships of South Africa. I have explored 'the connected home' and the future of domestic life. I have investigated the problem of trust in the age of cloud technologies.
One of the books that has derived from these studies is the IEEE award winning "The Myth of the Paperless Office" This book showed that paper has properties or affordances that support how people get to grips with information that computer systems of the time could not equal. Directions were offered for innovation that still motivate people who design and supply office technology. The Financial Times said this was the “only book worth reading on office technology that year” (2003). I continue to undertake research in this area, having completed a major project on the 'Future of paper in the age of AI' for one of Europe's largest paper manufacturers.
Another book is “Texture”, (the A.o.I.R. book of the year 2011). Here the topic is how human communication is affected by new technologies in ways that were not anticipated either by the inventors of the Internet or the latest data rich mobile networks. It points towards the ways in which human expression evolves and can be more richly supported by communications media if the right human-centric design policy is deployed.
My book “Choice” (2016) examines everyday choice-making activities and considers these in light of scientific theories about the mechanics of the ‘mind’. Essays on this and other topics can be found in my blog.
The technologies I have worked with and invented have been equally varied. I have been awarded or have under review 26 patents. I have explored how to re-imagine the basic user experience of search engines, for example. Such systems are designed to take users to websites while the ‘gathering engine’ I conceived of and patented brings content to the user in the form of ‘cards’. These entities can be kept or shared and radically transform information gathering from the Web. Versions of my concept are commonly used by both of the major search engines today - make a search for me and you will find a card on the right of the SERPs page! For the home setting, I have devised and patented family messaging devices that the CEO of Hallmark said ‘showed her their future’, while for new data infrastructures, I helped invent the cloud mouse, as well as sought to re-specify the elemental abstraction of user content, the digital file. I have done much else besides.
My public engagements reflect this diversity. I have addressed the Scottish Parliament on culture and technology; lectured on philosophy, technology and society at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, and explored the social impact of mobile phones at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. I have spoken alongside the Second Sea Lord on how to design for ‘digital warriors’ at RUSI, Whitehall, and I have recently ‘conversed’ on the subject of time and technology at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Last year I lectured at the University of Cambridge on the relationship between robots and religion; in the new year I give the conference keynote at HCI International.
As well as my scientific and research activities, I also act in supervisory and research strategy activities around the world. In Europe, I was a member of the Hearing Committee of the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research (2016) and board member of Mobile Life, at Stockholm University; I have acted as reviewer for the EU's FP5, 6 and 7 research programmes, and strategy consultant in the development of the Horizon Programme. I am currently a member of the EPSRC’s Digital Economy Programme Advisory Board. In the US, I am a member of the World Bank's Governance of Global Impact Committee, evaluating the effectiveness of the Bank's activities. This derives from my research on the IMF.