Ralph Horne Talks With Professor Julian Thomas
Hi, I'm Ralph Horne. Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation in the College of Design and Social Context. And I've got with me today Professor Julian Thomas, who is the director of the Enabling Capability Platform for Social Change. But also, of course, the inaugural director of the new Centre of Excellence in Automated Decision-Making and Society.
So, hi Julian and welcome.
Hi Ralph, thanks, great to be here.
This is really all about this new Centre of Excellence, which is a fantastic thing to have here hosted at RMIT. I'm interested in in the two words at the end of the title, "and society". I suspect, they may be front and centre of what this project is all about and I wonder if you could start by telling us a little bit about how society fits in to this Centre of Excellence?
Yeah, so absolutely. So, this is a Centre which has its own centre of gravity in the social sciences and in the humanities. We are working with colleagues from Computer Science and other technological disciplines. But it really is about the social consequences of these new technologies of automation. What we call, "automated decision-making systems", that we are most concerned. We are concerned with the social consequences of these systems. We are concerned with how they are changing society in all kinds of ways. And we are concerned about how society, in fact, shapes these technologies as well.
So, we can't just understand them as purely technological constructs. They are the kinds of things which you need to take a complex view of. And we think you can only really understand how they are going to play out for us, why are they going to be so significant, if you bring all of those social disciplines and perspectives to bear, as well as the purely scientific ones.
So, can you give me maybe some examples of how you see this Centre helping us to understand shifts in urban systems arising from kind of automation as described?
Well, one of the things that is going to change very quickly is how governments are delivering services, for example. And we are seeing how difficult this transition is and how much it can be very complicated and harmful for particular individuals when we look at the example like robo-debt. So, what we need to do is change the way those systems are designed and change what citizens understand about them and change the way organisations are able to respond to them. We think we can improve outcomes in that social policy area with much better understanding of the consequences of automated systems. We think we can do the same in that transport and mobility area, if we start to take into account the social and public interest considerations involved in, say, automated transport solutions. So, we think there is considerable opportunities there.
We think that there's great things that can be done in news and media for partners of the Centre. Like, for example, the ABC in how they distribute their very high-quality news product at the moment. The way in which news is going to be consumed will change completely over the next decade. It's very, very important that an organisation like the ABC has the chance to participate in that new environment.
Can you give us a flavour for the university and industry and external partners associated with the new Centre?
We are very lucky to have an amazing array of universities and partner organisations involved with the Centre. Both within Australia and internationally. So, here in Melbourne, we're working with a lot of our neighbours, Monash, Melbourne Uni and Swinburne where we are getting experts from law, from sociology, communication studies and a whole range of other fields. In Sydney, partners at the University of Sydney and Western Sydney University, UNSW. Up in Queensland, Queensland University of Technology, where there is special expertise around digital media and communications. And the University of Queensland, where there is a lot of expertise around social policy.
Our key partners include the Australian Red Cross, Google, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. A whole range of tech and consumer organisations, which are driven by concerns around the public interest in these new technologies. Internationally, we're working with an extraordinary array, again, of institutions. Both industry partners like Volvo who can help us with understanding better their development of autonomous vehicles. And universities, like Cornell Tech, Oxford University and the University of Amsterdam where they have deep expertise in domains such as artificial intelligence, the future of journalism or the way in which automation is impacting on everyday life. They can help us enormously in understanding those things. So, there is an extraordinary collection of partners, we are very lucky to be working with them.
And if you had to describe into three words how the world will be different as a result of the Centre, what would those three words be?
Safer, I hope. It's not one of the three words. Safer, a little more secure and a bit freer for everybody. So, I suppose, another three words would be a bit more trustworthy, a bit more inclusive and a little bit fairer. That would be amazing if we could do that.
That's wonderful. Thanks Julian. I'm sure we will be talking with Julian on many future occasions about the progress of the new Centre for Excellence in Automated Decision-Making and Society. Thanks.
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