Brunel University London's new Institute of Digital Futures was officially launched at a virtual event that heralded the importance of digital research and innovation for tackling many of the grand challenges faced by society.
Held over Zoom on 29 October, and convened by the Institute's Director, Prof Abdul Sadka, the event attracted academics and support staff from across the University, together with partners from local and national industry.
Brunel's Vice-Chancellor and President, Prof Julia Buckingham CBE, set the scene by remarking how our lives have been turned upside down by the global pandemic, but that rapid digital progress has come to the rescue of the University and society more widely. "Looking forward, I suspect that we, locally, nationally and globally, are only in the foothills of the digital revolution," she said. "I don't think there could be any doubt that the work of digital scientists and engineers will transform our lives in ways that we can't imagine in the next 20 or so years.
"Much of it will be a force for good, driving economic growth and improving the quality of people's lives right across the globe. But, sadly, it won't all be a force for good," she added, before highlighting issues of cyber security, cyber bullying and the ethics of new technologies.
The Institute's research will draw expertise from across the University's disciplines to address both sides of this coin. It will enhance the quality of life of global citizens and contribute towards the economic competitiveness through research into innovative data technologies; media connectivity and the Internet of Things; artificial intelligence, robotics and autonomous systems; software, cyber security and gaming; and smart technologies and quality engineering. But it will also tackle the advanced and ethical artificial intelligence practices, including developing trust in AI solutions.
Prof Sadka talked through each of these priority challenge areas for the Institute, and how they contribute to its principal aims – including aligning with the priorities of the national research funding body UKRI and the grand challenges of the UK's Industrial Strategy, notably on Artificial Intelligence and Data and the Future of Mobility.
"The goal is to create an inclusive digital research environment within Brunel that is highly recognised by industry and the public sector," he said, and that the Institute would build on the success of its predecessor, the Brunel Digital Science and Technology Hub.
The Institute is Brunel’s fourth Research Institute, and has been established to deliver on the digital Strategic Challenge Area of the Brunel 2030 Research Strategy, launched last year. Brunel's Provost, Prof Rebecca Lingwood, spoke about the wider Research Strategy context, followed by a presentation from Vice-Provost for Research, Prof Geoff Rodgers, on the impact of Brunel's research.
The final presentation was given by the external speaker Dr Mike Short, Chief Scientific Adviser at the UK Government's Department for International Trade, who has a long-standing association with Brunel. Dr Short showcased how British digital innovation has powered revolutionary technology worldwide, such as mobile money, which grew from a small UK-based research project into processing $1.9 billion of money transactions each day in 2019 across nearly 100 countries.
"It's often the case that these technologies have to be multidisciplinary and multifunctional," he said. "Putting them together through an Institute of Digital Futures is a great way to research and to demonstrate solutions for the future. It's a very good use of public money, but it's also a very good use of talent that exists at Brunel.
"The secrets of success are very much in the applied research area where you can really scale up and go internationally. The opportunity is now yours; please make the best use of the Institute. And I wish you all the success that you deserve."
The event continued with breakout room discussions on future funding opportunities and collaborations, and concluded with a specially designed virtual showcase of Brunel's existing digital research projects. Designed by a team of Brunel digital media graduates, the showcase was in a digitally twinned virtual environment that replicated the concourse and planetarium of Brunel’s Wilfred Brown building, enabling participants to view 32 stands of recent research, network with each other and enjoy the 360° 3D projection dome in virtual reality.
Find out more about Brunel’s Institute of Digital Futures.
Joe Buchanunn, Media Relations
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