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Emerging digital technologies – especially those that are data-driven, intelligent and algorithmic – have the potential to transform how we live our lives and impact on our health and wellbeing, our safety and security, and our work and autonomy. Yet technology-centric products, services and systems often cause more problems than they solve.

The vision of Human and Digital Design is to ensure that digital technologies are developed and used in ways that enable everyone in society to thrive. Our researchers design, understand, build and advocate for socially responsible technologies that are ethically sound and realise the positive transformational benefits emerging technologies can have for diverse members of society. Our projects provide research and insights that embed socially responsible design into the development of digital products, services and systems, to ensure benefits are maximised, and unintended harms are minimised, for all.

Digital connectivity provides a means to empower and unite citizens. However, emerging technologies are being designed and used in ways that have potential to cause social and organisational harms, and with this exacerbate and create new forms of digital exclusion, marginalisation and inequality. Consider the harms that can be caused by virtual agents and bots controlled by malevolent artificial intelligence, the impact of a total loss of personal privacy by providing health data to public and private entities, or the social and economic costs of new forms of unregulated work with few or no social protections.

While concerns around the encroachment of technology on society is an old if recurring debate, they have become especially pressing during the enduring global pandemic, which has rapidly accelerated the uptake of digital and data-driven technology and brought both opportunities for new ways of living and working. It has also caused new forms of exclusion, isolation and harm for certain communities and populations. The challenges posed to humanity of poor and unethical technology development and adoption are increasing rapidly and can no longer be ignored. It is essential to identify, and work with individuals and groups who would benefit from improving digital access and skills to ensure that no one is left behind and to avoid digital disempowerment.  

Centre for Digital Citizens

Central to our research is a new research centre which will address the challenges of digital citizenship. The Centre for Digital Citizens, led by Northumbria and Newcastle Universities, will explore how digital technologies can support areas such as public health and wellbeing, community engagement, learning and safety.

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