There are broad societal issues around agency, trust and ethics which must be considered in the context of how data is gathered and used. There is also increasing debate around the appropriate role for sensors, algorithms, etc. in our everyday lives. Fortunately, this is leading to a heightened awareness of the relative roles of artificial and human intelligence, with a focus on technologies which can augment human capacity rather than attempting to emulate it.Judith Good, chair of the group.
The Digital Interactions Lab is a research group within the Informatics Institute at the University of Amsterdam. There is a lot of potentially very exciting research taking place in areas such as AI, machine learning, natural language understanding and the Internet of Things. However, the advances in these areas are not making the impact that they might in fields such as education and healthcare. Our research bridges the gap between the technology-oriented and market-led formulation of the smart agenda with a sociological and psychological understanding of what people need artificial intelligence to be, and how data science might enhance our societies.
The focus is on ‘impact’. In an inherently multidisciplinary endeavour, the Digital Interactions Lab, as a Human-Computer Interaction Lab, is committed to connecting the realm of technology with reflections, concepts, and knowledge established in various domains of social science. It also connects with people and domain experts to ensure impact.
The predominant questions the Digital Interactions Lab tries to answer is ‘How can we ensure that advances in artificial intelligence and data science lead to concomitant advances in human values, dignity, wellbeing, and flourishing? How can interactive digital technologies address the pressing societal challenges of today, and the ones of the future, in ways which lead to real impact?’
The three main research topics are:
1. Smart technologies for students with diverse needs. A sizeable percentage of learners could benefit from additional support at some point during their learning trajectory, if not throughout. Although there is evidence of the effectiveness of technologies in this context, very few of them can be considered to be ‘smart’. In other cases, high cost and usability issues prevent widespread adoption. In this topic, our focus is on developing impactful technologies, which start from a true understanding of learners and their needs/desires, and make use of the latest advances in AI, IoT, etc., but which can be deployed in real settings because of their ease of use, low cost, and desirability.
2. Human interaction with smart learning environments. The broad objective is to seek opportunities that interactive AI can create to rethink the learning spaces of the future. Digital Interactions Lab seeks to introduce radical advances in how built environments support individual and collaborative learning processes. Concretely, the group investigates the impact of built environments that accommodate learning on (i) the cognitive performance of students and educators, (ii) the visual, thermal, and acoustic comfort supporting learners in performing pedagogical practices, and (iii) interpersonal interactions among students leading to collaborative learning. ‘Cognition’, ‘Comfort’, and ‘Collaboration’ are the three specific dimensions that this research plan investigates. The scientific contribution will develop a pioneering multidisciplinary agenda at the intersection of Human-Computer Interaction, Architecture, and Learning Science.
3. Digital health and wellbeing. The focus of this research is on the development, use, implementation, and evaluation of innovative, digital technologies, digital interaction, and an understanding and application of the bigger data picture in the application domain of public wellbeing and health. This interdisciplinary research is conducted together with users and in close collaboration with the professional field, industry, and education. An example of our research in this area focuses on human-robot interaction, where studies suggest that systems that exhibit certain social properties are more easily accepted by users. These findings will be used in our research on the interaction between humans and intelligent homes and healthcare systems.
Facts & figures
The Digital Interactions Lab was established in 2021 as the principal Human-Computer Interaction centre of research at the University of Amsterdam by Prof. Judith Good (director) as well as Prof. Somaya Ben Allouch and Dr. Hamed Alavi (founding members).
Our vision is to educate the next generation of computer engineers and scientists who can reflect and act beyond the realm of technical development, with a broad view on the real impact of technologies on human welfare, as well as on social and environmental issues. The group is responsible for the Interaction Design and Multimedia Design courses, part of the Bachelor Informatiekunde. We are also bringing a human centred focus to the Master’s in Information Studies through the Data, Sensors and Complex Services course, and a new course, currently in development, called Shaping Digital Life.
Digital Interactions Lab positions itself in the research themes Data Science and AI from a human-centred standpoint.