Is digital technology undermining our democracy?

By Professor Stephan Lewandowsky

Democracy is debate. But unfortunately access to the “free marketplace of ideas” where citizens see all sides of the debate isn’t equal.

The internet was going to fix that.

Instead, we now live in an era of democratic backsliding, with at least 80 countries having become less democratic during the last decade. And much of that decline is being blamed on the internet, which facilitates the spread of disinformation, hate speech, incitement, and foreign interference in elections.

This is exactly why universities around the world, including the University of Bristol’s Digital Futures Institute, are working with tech giants, governments and the third sector to examine how this happened and what we can do about it.

Targeting the problem

Much criticism has been directed at the social media giants, in particular Facebook – it was recently labelled “digital gangsters” by a UK Parliamentary committee.

There’s a basic incompatibility between democracy and Facebook’s business model of “microtargeting”. We know from psychological research that 300 “Likes” are sufficient to infer someone’s personality with greater accuracy than their spouse.

Facebook patented this idea and enabled advertisers – including politicians – to segment their audience and target their messages more effectively. However much of the highly personal information used for microtargeting is inferred by Facebook rather than explicitly given by users.

If you use Facebook, it’s already building a profile of who you are – if you want to know what Facebook knows about you, download your data. Prepare to be amazed.

When politicians know their messages are confined to a partisan audience, there’s no pressure for moderation and extremism becomes politically rewarding. It’s also a recipe for disinformation. Politicians can get away with sending false information to a carefully selected group of potential sympathisers who are unlikely to object, even if they detect they’re being misled.

What are the solutions?

Rising social concern about the use of digital data and AI technologies in the political process is prompting big tech companies to do something about this. Google announced it’ll no longer permit microtargeting of political messages – applicable in the forthcoming British election and rolled out globally in 2020.

Although political campaigns reacted with outrage against the move, it’s a step in the right direction. It forces campaigns to be more palatable to a broader audience – making extremism less rewarding and opening the door to rebuttals. Facebook has also taken several steps to help safeguard the 2020 US election, including the clear labelling of misinformation and additional transparency measures. Thus far, Facebook has not addressed the problems arising from microtargeting.

Self-regulation within the online ad-serving industry is important, but isn’t enough to address the challenges. Research is being done in universities around the world to understand these practices, to examine their effects on citizens – and their voting behaviour – and to develop technologies that track and block the trackers or seek to expose systematic biases in ads.

The University of Bristol’s Digital Futures Institute recently received £100m of funding from Research England and 27 organisations keen to collaborate in shaping digital futures, including BT, BBC, Watershed, Knowle West Media Centre and Black South West Network.

Bristol Digital Futures Institute, which will be based at the planned Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus, will work with partners to challenge the traditional, linear model of technical innovation. When technologies are developed without in-depth consideration of social questions, they abdicate responsibility for the future worlds they may be creating. By bringing social scientists and engineers together, the new Institute aims to pioneer a new way of creating digital technologies, with future societies at its heart.

Digital technologies are transforming our world. Instead of wondering what on earth will come next, Bristol Digital Futures Institute will work to democratise the future, driving inclusive and innovative technologies that benefit all of us.

Sharing experiences across borders

Professor Guy Orpen, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for New Campus Development

An aerial view of Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus

The past six weeks or so have seen the Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus on tour, featuring in debates in Bristol, Brussels and the Netherlands – and visiting comparable university sites in London.

Placemaking was the theme of a session at a recent Built Environment Networking conference in the Passenger Shed at Temple Meads. Given how underused the site and the streets around the new campus are currently, it’s clear we’ll need to make a big effort to create a sense of place and belonging for all who use and visit it. This implies a major emphasis on the way the public spaces on the campus are designed and used so everyone can enjoy them and feel welcome.

This issue was discussed in the session on “The Bristol Transformation: Creating Great Places” at the Watershed during the recent Festival of the Future City. The role of public art and cultural activity in and around the campus was highlighted by Mike Keys, the campus lead architect, and Fabienne Nicholas of Contemporary Art Society, leading on public art strategy for the campus and University more widely. Elsewhere in the Festival, Tom Sperlinger, Joanna Holmes and John Goddard, the guru of civic universities, led a discussion on the role universities should play in their places. It was striking how impressed John was with the pace and quality of progress in Bristol.

Meanwhile on the continent, the University took some of its leading lights in research to Brussels to meet members of the Commission, European funders and research organisation leaders, as well as the UK’s representatives there. Our message was simple: there may be confusion over national EU policy, but Bristol is open for partnership and investment and is making progress in Temple Quarter and elsewhere. It’s clear we need to crack on and make that progress for the benefit of all.

I took a similar message to Dutch colleagues grappling with the role that universities can play in their cities at a conference in Den Bosch – ironically it was held on the day after Brexit was supposed happen. They were keen to hear about how our University had declared a Climate Emergency, was working with our city on the One City Plan and is building partnerships to create value for all. Their invitation followed a major delegation visit to Bristol in February – they clearly feel something interesting and important is happening here.

Since then, we have been to see our university peers’ major developments in London – Imperial College’s White City Campus, UAL’s Central Saint Martin’s college and UCL’s at Here East and the Olympic Park. While these are impressive, we sensed we had something both distinctive and highly competitive to offer in Temple Quarter. Combining real local community participation in research, innovation and education, the world-leading capabilities the University brings and the powerful commitment of government and industry is special and potent – and is great to see happening in Bristol.

Why students need an innovative mindset

By Professor Kirsten Cater, Academic Director Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Students at the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

With 5.7 million small business in the UK and more than 1,000 new start-ups every single day, it’s critical that our students are prepared for this competitive environment. And this doesn’t mean starting the conversation when they graduate – students should be in this frame of mind from day one and build the skills needed for the ever-changing workplace.

Many employers argue that graduates’ skills don’t always match the ones they’re looking for, and this gap can be an intimidating barrier for those leaving university. Education should be a pathway that naturally leads students into the workplace. Aligning courses with longer-term skills, including having an innovative and entrepreneurial mindset, is critical to the success of our graduates and the organisations they work for or the enterprises they create.

Mindset + knowledge = innovation

Our multi-award-winning Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s mission is to graduate the next generation with the adaptability, agility, interdisciplinary and innovative thinking to reflect the changing world of employment and modern society. They’ll be equipped to tackle complex problems by collaborating across traditional boundaries and disciplines. Our first-of-their-kind degrees bring students together from 14 different disciplines (including computer science, anthropology, history, geography and theatre) to study innovation and entrepreneurship alongside their subject specialism.

At the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship we also do things differently, we need to be innovative and entrepreneurial ourselves – living and breathing what we teach. We’re not teaching “traditional” subjects, so we can’t teach in a “traditional” way – we deliver innovative pedagogical approaches. We hold sessions in a studio-based learning environment and give our students real-world inter-disciplinary challenges. Our centre encourages students to be creative, be innovative, take risks, work in teams and share ideas openly with each other – learning how to take those ideas forward together into start-up enterprises.

“I was intrigued and excited by the University of Bristol’s own innovative thinking in establishing these degree courses. Having spent a day immersed with the staff and students, and after giving a lecture and workshop, I’m hugely impressed by the potential to inspire and encourage world change makers to think new thoughts; to fail, learn and iterate and to develop the people with the creativity and resilience our 21st century society and economy cries out for. It shows Bristol continues to lead in the relevance, variety and application of its courses and support.” Paul Lindley, founder of Ella’s Kitchen

Collaboration is key and we don’t just empower students to work with their peers. The centre is host to many of our external partners and a network of investors ready to support ideas – and these relationships are at the heart of what we do.

Successful innovation doesn’t stop here

World number one university business incubator SETsquared and enterprise hub Engine Shed are already driving new ways of thinking in business and inclusive growth across the region. And University of Bristol spin-out Ziylo was recently bought by a global healthcare company in a deal worth around $800million. Our students can see this success firsthand and learn from others’ experiences.

Vassilis Seferedis, CEO and Founder of Zetta Networks says, “My advice to an entrepreneur, especially a technology entrepreneur, is to focus on understanding and communicating the business problem that you’re solving. There can be a temptation, particularly for academics, to be distracted by interesting technology rather than the application of technology to solve problems. If you can understand the business problem you are solving, can explain that to the end-user and quantify the value of what you do, you will stand out from your peers.”

This culture of collaboration and innovation will form the core of our new Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus, which will be home to the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. At the new campus, enterprise and community partners will come together under the same roof as our students and researchers to work to build a better future.

“It’s imperative that young people are given access to the skills and experiences to help raise awareness of future opportunities and to engage them with the workplace at a young age. In collaboration with Engine Shed’s Diverse Workforce for the Future project, SETsquared Bristol has provided educational sessions with the most innovative tech start-ups that are growing their businesses at SETsquared. We look forward to being involved with new opportunities that the Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus will provide, linking enterprise, learning and community in Bristol.” Monika Radclyffe, Centre Director of SETsquared Bristol

Professor Kirsten Cater is speaking at Bristol Technology Showcase on Friday 8 November about Technology, People and Change – Building the workforce for the Future.

Use or be used: Skills, technology and the future of work

By Dr Frederick Harry Pitts, Lecturer in Management at University of Bristol

When people imagine the future of work, their minds often jump to AI replacing jobs and machines taking over the world – leaving humans in an age of widespread unemployment. But in reality, automation is more likely to replace individual tasks within jobs than the jobs themselves.

Indeed, we already coexist with machine learning in the workplace using everyday processes like predictive text. This shows the future of work lies more in the augmentation of human labour with technology than its replacement by it.

This augmentation could alienate workers, rendering them what Marx called the mere ‘appendages of machines’. But it could also liberate and empower them to apply their skills and knowledge to the active control and mastery of technology.

Far from something that arises naturally and automatically, technology is a human creation subject to the social and political conditions in which it’s developed. But, without workers’ freedom to wield power over the tools and devices they use in their work, these conditions often mean new technologies can take on a life of their own.

Whilst policymakers and commentators get caught up in grand schemes to adapt to robotised worklessness or fully automated luxury, a more urgent imperative goes overlooked. This is the need to regulate and organise the world of work as it stands now, in order to bend technology to our will rather than the reverse.

Empower, not dominate

This centres on skill. We might think of skill as the capacity to control and shape the world around us. Whilst it’s popular to speak of skill as ‘talent’, this isn’t true – as the term might suggest, it’s not something innate, but something learned.

Economic, social, political and cultural contextual factors can impact the learning conditions necessary to attain skill. And just as technology adoption and implementation is influenced by these factors, so too is investment in the skills to use it.

Several factors impact employers’ and governments’ decisions to invest in the skills needed to thrive in a technological world of work. From wages and contractual conditions to wider political-economic, regulatory and legal structures, these environments often add to the challenge.

Where precarious, low-pay work arrangements are the norm, as they are in the UK today, there’s little incentive for employers to invest in the technology to make that work better and more productive. Specifically, developing the skills necessary for workers to experience technology as an empowering rather than dominating force.

Whether a warehouse, an office or an Uber, new technology being imposed to manage workers in a workplace often goes hand in hand with a ‘wild west’ regulatory regime. And this is unlikely to have any sense of longevity or commitment on the part of employers or employees.

This culture leaves little basis around which workers and employers can share in the gains of greater productivity – whether that’s through skills, training, better pay or terms and conditions.

Somewhere in the augmentation of human labour by technology, there’s a real opportunity for a new mission of skilful mastery that turns technology to human purposes. This can’t be achieved through the supply of skills in education alone. There are wider political-economic constraints on the capacity to innovate and develop that need addressing at other levels.

What’s the solution?

Increases in minimum wages may help. This would force employers to seek more from workers at the bottom end of the labour market and invest in productivity-raising technologies and the skills to use them. But this could have unintended consequences. Although employers might gain in profits, workers won’t necessarily have an equal gain in skills – or a fair share in the benefits of greater productivity.

Rather than tweaks to pay alone, the best solutions rest in the legal and regulatory environment of work. Increase in trade union membership and collective bargaining would help grant workers the voice to protect themselves against rapid change. This could also drive wages upwards and incentivise investment by employers at the same time.

By forcing employers’ hands to the fire with increases in wages and bargaining power, this could help replicate some of the gains of the twentieth-century industrial compromise. This was when managers and workers had a shared interest in increasing levels of productivity in workplaces.

At the time, the interest was much more likely to be based on skilled, secure and fulfilling work where humans used technology to their ends. It is, however, the reverse that’s the reality of work for too many today.

It’s too often the case that the human power to shape the world around us slips by the wayside in discussions of technology. The latter is commonly presented as developing autonomously, with skills shifting passively in response.

We are constrained by conditions that are ever-changing – and not always of our choosing. But skill is the measure of our ability to bend technology and the wider world to our purposes and determine the direction it takes. It is up to us to use it – or be used ourselves.

Dr Harry Pitts is speaking at RSA Bristol: Future of Work on Thursday 7 November. The text is based on a talk given at Millennifest Bristol. Millennifest’s organisers, the thinktank Common Vision, will also be publishing a version of this blog.

Low carbon, high inclusion: Economies of the future

By Professor Martin Parker

Confronted by today’s problems, it’s easy to imagine there’s nothing we can do to help. Climate change, gigantic global and local inequalities, the rise of a politics that positions the ‘people’ against the ‘elite’. It’s all too much to deal with, and not surprising that many people turn away in despair. Standing in front of a tsunami, what is the point of gluing yourself to some railings? We can see the problems, but they’re too big to deal with in our everyday lives.

Yet the amazing thing about this city and region is just how many people are already organising new ways to think about the problems that face us. These are people already trying to build a low carbon and high inclusion economy. In just about every area you might think of – whether its food, transport, energy, media or housing – new businesses are growing which are turning standard economic assumptions on their head.

The economy is the answer

For the last fifty years we’ve been collectively persuaded that all businesses need to have leaders who are motivated by huge salaries. Or that efficiency just means saving money by making people work harder for less money, and that shareholders deserve super-normal returns on their investments. Or even that it’s OK if a business arranges its affairs so that it doesn’t pay tax, or it creates waste and social problems and then lets the rest of us clear it up.

But all these assumptions are wrong. Climate change is caused when businesses emit carbon to make products or sell things that require us to emit carbon to use them. Inequalities are caused by concentrations of wealth within and between nations which in turn have been caused by past and present businesses.

Our political tribalism reflects the problems of de-industrialising parts of the UK in places where local well-paying industries are long gone, and replaced by McJobs, precarious employment and Amazon warehouses. Whichever way you run the argument, if we want to face the tsunami, we need to have a different way of doing business – a new economy.

That’s why we have started the Inclusive Economy Initiative at the University of Bristol. It involves a team of social scientists from various disciplines who are interested in working with local alternative businesses to grow the new economy we all need. We’re already talking to co-ops, green companies and organisations like Bristol 24/7’s Better Business network.

What can we do?

There are three things we need to do to make a new future. One is to decarbonise all aspects of business practice, from cars to burgers, and do it as rapidly as possible. The second is to make sure these changes produce economies which are inclusive – they should reward everyone who lives in Bristol, not just those from the leafy north and west.

Finally, we think it’s really important that all workers have more control over their workplaces, and ideally they should have meaningful ownership too. A practical experience of democracy at work will help us restore a sense of democracy in our city and country.

This would produce an economy which doesn’t damage the planet, doesn’t discriminate against people on the basis of gender or skin colour, and which gives workers a sense of shaping the places that they work. These might seem like utopian ideas, but unless we make them real, we will all end up the poorer.

Contact the University of Bristol’s Inclusive Economy Initiative on bris-iei@bristol.ac.uk.

Martin_Parker
Professor Martin Parker

More than a building

By Professor Guy Orpen, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for New Campus Development

In May I wrote about the experience of seeing the sun rise from Platform 15 at Temple Meads for the first time since the 1920s, following the demolition of the former Royal Mail Sorting Office. This week the University of Bristol has published new plans for that site.

Importantly, alongside two major buildings, these include major public spaces leading to a new Eastern entrance to Temple Meads planned by Network Rail. That entrance will be under the selfsame Platform 15, on the level of both the site and the thoroughfare running under the platforms.

The planned site has plentiful seating and is greened by trees sheltering those walking and cycling across it. The harbourside frontage is envisaged as having many more trees to create a green corridor linking the existing Totterdown basin waterside and neighbouring spaces. The sustainability ambitions of the University are manifested in a building that provides its own energy and links to the city’s district heat network – all while harvesting rainwater and solar energy across its roof.

The designs portray what a day in the life of the new campus at Temple Quarter might look like – from the dawn light through the glazed panels of the interior gardens to the twilight images of the public space passing under and through the main building. This reminds us that this is a part of the city that could and should be lively and used out of hours.

While the consultation is about the physical redevelopment of a site that has lain derelict for a generation, the bigger story is how the city, its enterprises and communities and the University can work together there to develop their futures for the better.

As I write this column, I am attending a conference debating the value of universities to the cities, regions and society they are in. It is a debate that reveals a range of great work going on in cities around the world. There is strong recognition in the room of the merit of engaging with the people and organisations in a place and to do so with respect, to create mutual and sustained benefit. Some at the conference referred to the value created by student and staff volunteering, others to the opportunities created by positive recruitment, living wage and responsible procurement policies – all things we do here in Bristol. In discussions, we sought to define how universities could learn from and discover with their civic partners and be fair, respectful and relevant in so doing. The new campus building offers venues such as the Story Exchange and the Bristol Rooms just for these cooperative activities.

In this consultation with our city, we want to hear what you think of our development plans. We will want to sustain the dialogue over the years to come, because we will not only develop the site, but be there to live, work, play and learn with and for our city over the decades to come.

You can see our plans, share your view and find more details about our consultation events here.

We Are Not a Single Species: Behind the scenes

Paul Hurley, one of our artists in residence, has created a collaborative film investigating the heritage of Temple Quarter and the human and nonhuman communities that inhabit the area. The piece will be on display 20-21 September at SPACE6 West Street, Old Market. 

There are many things that connect us in Bristol – different worlds, experiences, identities and perceptions bridge the gaps between us. Paul’s creation is designed to unpack this and introduce us to a new way of seeing our world. 

“We live in entanglements of human and nonhuman worlds, of pasts, presents, and many possible futures. My approach to the residency was to explore some of these, to tease out some of the tangled threads that connect different worlds to a new university campus in the city.” – Paul Hurley

Cinemadography: Barney LaBeija filming on a GoPro

While filming, Paul spent some time around the University and at the Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus building site. To capture the nonhuman perspective in these areas, his four-legged companion Barney donned a GoPro and set off exploring. Often led by Barney’s nose, Paul captured footage he might never have chosen himself. He said, “There were elements of a situationist dérive, an artistic drift around the city, unsure where we and the camera were being taken.” 

As part of the piece, others were invited to collaborate in ‘walk and talks’ with a nonhuman of their choice – human participants included university staff, members of the public and people living and working near Temple Quarter. Recording the conversations, they walked with a range of nonhumans from the weather and Carlo the cat to Siri and the plants of the University’s botanic garden. 

Paul explained that by combining the dog-filmed footage with a collage of audio from the walks, our expectations of looking at the city were disrupted.” In the exhibition on 20-21 September, each visitor will experience a unique combination of sound and visual – reflecting the serendipity of the filming itself. An audio track of the ‘walk and talk’ conversations together with three screens showing individual videos are all different lengths, creating intersecting spirals of film instead of loop. 

They operate like the layers of conversation, history and experience that accumulate in articulating the world (or worlds) of the Temple Quarter. These worlds, like us, are multiple, they are separate but entangled. We are not – and can never be – a single species.” – Paul Hurley 

 

‘We are not a single species’, by Paul Hurley. Film by Paul Hurley and Paul Samuel White, cinemadography by Barney LaBeija, copyright Paul Hurley 2019.  

With thanks to all human and nonhuman participants.

From rubble to research: Share your view

As you can see from Bristol City Council’s timelapse video, demolition of the former Royal Mail Sorting Office building is complete and we’re looking forward to the next stage of development for the Cattle Market site. From 9-25 September, we’ll be sharing our latest plans for the detailed design of the academic buildings and public spaces for the Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus as part of the next stage of public consultation.

The new campus will provide inspiring spaces to meet, learn and make new connections and include public spaces for all to enjoy. It will help create a new inclusive city district in Temple Quarter, contribute to economic growth and job creation and join the city centre to the east of Bristol.

From 9 September plans will be published online for comment. In addition, there will be a number of ways for you to see our plans in person and share your views.

Public meeting:

  • Wednesday 18 September, 5-7pm at Hillcrest Primary School, Cemetery Road, Totterdown

Drop-in sessions:

  • Wednesday 11 September, 6-7:30pm at Engine Shed, Station Approach, Bristol BS1 6QH
  • Thursday 12 September, 5-7pm at Barton Hill Settlement, 43 Ducie Road, Bristol BS5 0AX
  • Saturday 21 September, 12-2pm at Windmill Hill City Farm, Philip Street, Bristol BS3 4EA

The plans will also be on display at:

Engine Shed, Station Approach, Bristol BS1 6QH
University of Bristol, Beacon House, Queen’s Road, Bristol BS8 1QU

You can stay up to date by subscribing to our newsletter or visiting our website.

Clarification on Guardian coverage

By Professor Guy Orpen, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for New Campus Development and Professor Tom Sperlinger, Academic Lead for Engagement for Temple Quarter

We were pleased to see coverage yesterday in The Guardian of our plans for the Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus.  

The article highlights the important work of one of our partners, the Barton Hill Settlement in east Bristol and our work with them on a micro-campus as part of their proposed micro-settlement development.  

The article also includes the experiences of Myla Lloyd, one of our graduates. We’re very proud of her and are committed to working on new ways to create access to our programmes for those who, like Myla, haven’t followed a conventional route through school. 

We’ve received a lot of positive feedback on the plans included in the article. However, the headline – and particularly the phrase ‘the wrong side of the tracks’ – has also attracted comment and criticism.  

This phrase was used in an off-the-cuff way by a senior manager at the University and was intended as a literal description of the location of the new campus, given to a journalist who has limited knowledge of local geography. We acknowledge that the phrase has a range of negative connotations and has been taken as a criticism of areas of east and south Bristol, which certainly wasn’t the intention. We apologise that this phrase was used and for any offence that has been caused. 

We hope it is clear, from the wider context in the article, that we have been thinking carefully about the University’s move into a different area of the city. The Temple Quarter campus will be adjacent to communities, in east and south Bristol, that are complex and some of which experience multiple forms of disadvantage. We want to work with and learn from those communities and we know this will mean creating new relationships in the city. 

That process has started already, and our plans have been informed by ongoing dialogue with a range of partners and communities. We’d be pleased to hear from more organisations and individuals who have ideas for activities at and near the new campus. 

Our aspiration is for Temple Quarter to be a meeting place for experience and knowledge from across society. This includes civic partners and local communities, who have expertise that will be vital in facing some of the big challenges of the future. We want those communities to be part of the conversation at Temple Quarter alongside our staff and students (from around the world and recruited locally) and business, industry and enterprise partners, some of whom will be co-located on site.   

So what does this all mean in practice? 

Here are some of our plans, which are still evolving: 

  • Civic and community partners will shape the big research questions at Temple Quarter. For example, the new Bristol Digital Futures Institute, which will be based there, is working with social enterprise and civic partners such as Black South West Network from its inception. This is vital, as the Institute will be considering the big challenges about how we all live with technology in the future.
  • Civic and community partners will be based with us on campus. The new campus will include a space on the ground floor, called the Bristol Rooms, where there will be hotdesking space for community infrastructure organisations, social enterprises and civic partners to work with us on research, co-designing education programmes, new student internships and big civic challenges.
  • The University will also be part of conversations elsewhere in the city and region. For example, as part of our partnership with Barton Hill Settlement, we’ve been invited to a city-wide Social Justice Project they are working on, which will examine urgent challenges emerging in local communities – including the future of the advice sector in Bristol. This will allow our researchers (and those from UWE) to get involved in research that emerges from the priorities in local communities.
  • Temple Quarter will lead to new educational opportunities. The Guardian article mentioned the flexible undergraduate degree we plan to launch, which will specifically be aimed at local people without conventional qualifications, which builds on our successful foundation programme in arts and social sciences. We are also designing other new educational programmes that will involve co-designing modules and engagement opportunities with local partners. This will put civic and community expertise at the heart of our educational endeavours. 
  • Temple Quarter is also an opportunity to re-think who we are as an employer. We are working with partners in the city on new initiatives to recruit a diverse range of staff to the University – we hope to announce more details on this later this year.
  • The campus will also be a place to meet, learn and socialise. For example, we’re working on a programme of activity called Twilight Temple Quarter, a curated programme of events and activities in evenings and weekends which we hope will bring a range of communities to the campus on an ongoing basis. 

 If there’s one small space on the campus that symbolises much of its ethos, it may be one we are calling the Story Exchange. It will be a round space on the ground floor, which will seat about 30 people in a circle. It will be a space in which a range of people can take part in a conversation, on equal terms.  

That’s just one space, but it symbolises the way in which we want different voices and perspectives to be heard on the campus. 

We know that some of the major challenges we face as a society are about participation – about who has a say in the technologies and democratic systems and in the crises such as climate change, which will shape all of our futures.  

That’s why we want Temple Quarter to be a place where we can face some of those big challenges together. 

A better digital future for all

By Professor Guy Orpen Deputy Vice-Chancellor, New Campus Development

Last week saw Bristol in the headlines for a huge research award to enable the establishment of the Bristol Digital Futures Institute. With its remarkable facilities, the Institute will be led by Professor Dimitra Simeonidou and Professor Susan Halford at the heart of the new University campus at Temple Quarter. It will focus on developing not just the digital technologies of the future, but how they are to benefit society, people and businesses. The amount of money is enormous. UK Research and Innovation – the R&D funding arm of UK government – awarded the University of Bristol £29m, matched by £71m of private, and industrial support. This is a massive vote of confidence for the concept of the Temple Quarter campus achieved in direct competition with the biggest and best universities and their partners in the country.

The Institute will aim to generate 30 new collaborate projects per year. It has been hailed both as the means by which Bristol could support the development of franchises like Wallace & Gromit and Shaun the Sheep (by Aardman) and also achieve breakthroughs in design and manufacturing (by Airbus). The range of partners involved is remarkable – from Babbasa, KWMC and Watershed to Hargreaves Lansdown and BT – literally dozens, large and small, local and global in reach. They all seek to work across traditional divides to understand the potential and benefits of the digital world – whether by partnering the creative with manufacturing, community with industry, or computer science with sociology.

Perhaps today it is easier now than a few years ago to understand how thoughtful we all need to be about digital technologies. When Web 2.0 was first mentioned 15-20 years ago no one imagined that Google, Amazon, Facebook and the like would be the giants they are now. Even less predicted was the way social media would be the means by which US presidents get elected or communicate their policies! Nor did we understand how much others got to know about us as individuals and communities while we use the internet.

The new Institute will have at its heart the ambition to let people and society shape the digital futures that we face, together. It will develop the responsible innovation, regulation, ethics, acceptability and business models for new ways of living and working using the many emerging digital technologies. Whole new ways of operating society are arising almost daily – the potential for doing good is tremendous but so are some of the risks. By directly involving a wider range of people at the time the tech and its applications are being developed, the Bristol Digital Futures Institute will seek to maximise those benefits for all.

Businesses born in the digital age, those born longer ago, organisations and activities that could be digital – many people and parts of society will want to think through how they develop their futures. The Bristol Digital Futures Institute will be there in the heart of our city to help.