Intel Funds Social Computing Research Center At UC Irvine
June 28, 2012

Intel Funds Social Computing Research Center At UC Irvine

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

As technology pervades our daily life more and more, the study of how we interact with it will become increasingly valuable.

A new $12.5-million collaboration between the University of California, Irvine and Intel will be focused on this burgeoning relationship between man and machine, the chipmaker announced Tuesday.

The UC Irvine´s Intel Science Technology Center (ISTC) is the company´s seventh such endeavor and will fund five years of social and anthropological research surrounding how people interact with technology. The announcement also marks the culmination of the $100 million investment the company pledged last year toward the ISTC program.

“Technology is profoundly entangled with our everyday lives. As researchers, we can´t get a handle on what´s going on by looking at technical factors alone. We have to study them in concert with human, social and cultural aspects,” said UCI informatics professor Paul Dourish.

Intel´s chief technology officer John Rattner said the social computing ISTC at UC Irvine is the first program that will focus specifically on user experience design. The social computing ISTC will involve the work of both social scientists and technologists, he said.

"This is absolutely a set of people we have been hoping to get together for years, and Intel has given us the opportunity to do that," said Paul Dourish, a UC Irvine informatics professor who will co-lead the social computing ISTC.

According to a statement on the official Intel website, the ISTC will focus on five research themes: reimagining information as grounded in physical objects, moving beyond a user-centric experience, information ecosystems, group-embedded creativity, and digital representations of human understanding.

The ISTC plan envisions UC Irvine serving as the center´s hub, with four other campuses participating: Cornell University, Indiana University, the Georgia Institute of Technology and New York University. The program will involve experts in anthropology, media studies, philosophy, and computer science, among others.

“There´s a great opportunity here. There´s also a challenge, because we´re dealing with rigorous theory based on social science,” said Scott Mainwaring of Intel Labs, the company´s research arm.

“A major focus for the Intel researchers based here will be to bridge this divide, to help frame our findings in ways that can have real-world impact within our company and elsewhere.”

Bill Maurer, an associate dean of UCI´s School of Social Sciences, agreed saying, “computing today is social through and through, and that is redefining the very nature of how we experience ourselves as persons. Information design needs to be supplemented by disciplines with long histories of wrestling with social and technical relationships.”

While any studies or research by the center will not be proprietary and will be made available to the public, executives at Intel are highly aware of the missteps made by other tech companies who have made investments in research but not reaped the benefits.

"We're very conscious of this at Intel Labs and have spent considerable time ways to break those barriers and avoid what we call the valley of death for products in the labs that never make it to product," Rattner said.