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NYU Steinhardt Researchers Awarded $1.625 Million to Partner with Intel for New Social Computing Initiative

June 26, 2012


NYU Steinhardt Professor Helen Nissenbaum has received $1.625 million to serve as New York University’s lead researcher in the new Intel Science and Technology Center for Social Computing, an initiative that will bring the social sciences to bear on contemporary computing—from social networks to e-government. Assistant Professor Erica Robles-Anderson, also from NYU Steinhardt’s Department of Media, Culture, and Communication, will collaborate with Nissenbaum on questions pertaining to information technologies as social and cultural phenomena: how social values are embedded in digital media and how technology defines identity, both individually and collectively.

“This exciting opportunity places NYU faculty and students alongside many of the leading thinkers in the field of social computing to pursue deep and sustained study of theory and practice,” says Nissenbaum, who is a renowned scholar on issues of privacy and information technology.

The Center, unveiled today by Intel, is devoted to studying the “third wave” of social computing: the merging of digital and social realms, human and the machine.

The University of California at Irvine will serve as the hub of the $12.5 million Intel-funded research center and facilitate joint research collectives overseen by lead researchers at four partnering institutions: Cornell University, Indiana University, Georgia Tech, and New York University.

Driving this latest center is the belief that technology, culture, politics, and computing are inextricably intertwined; by studying their amalgam, the initiative will generate new scholarly research, policy interventions, and tech innovations. This is Intel’s first Science and Technology Center to span technology, social sciences, and humanities, and it signals a deliberate effort to foster the social and cultural analysis of digital media, information technologies, and networks that will reshape traditional computing paradigms.

The Center includes experts in anthropology, media studies, digital humanities, philosophy, and computer science, who will engage the following themes as inter-institutional research teams:

• Algorithmic Living
Implications of algorithms moving into social systems and daily life, invited or not
The rise of “big data” collection raises questions about how people adjust to living amidst data and associated algorithmic tools. Researchers will examine such questions as “Who develops these algorithms and what values and assumptions guide their designs? What is their actual effect on everyday practices and understandings?”

• Information Ecosystems
How people, values, and systems interact and conflict at different scales
This theme considers the interrelationships between data sets themselves. Privacy and trust emerge as core concerns when large data sets “get together.” How do different technological modes (cloud, pervasive, visual, etc.) disrupt contexts, change information flow, and reframe scale?

• The Materiality of Information
Re-thinking the nature of information as grounded in materials and physical objects
Digital information is imagined as a pure abstraction, as flowing effortlessly through cables, wireless networks, and silicon chips. This theme considers the material foundation of information and the material properties of the configurations through which humans encounter it.

• Subjectivities of Information
Moving beyond “the user” as the center of user experience
This theme investigates how social computing is redefining users and use. Different algorithms have their own ideas about what kind of person one might be, or become. As users engage with massively networked and mobile computing, new opportunities and constraints arise for how users experience their subjectivity.

• Creativity and Collectivity
How group production and patterns of making are changing what it is to be creative.
This theme considers online and offline communities that do not map onto traditional understandings of “users” or societies. How does digital media enable new forms of creativity among these nontraditional collectives and what sorts of aesthetics emerge?

Nissenbaum is a professor of media, culture and communication, and computer science at New York University, where she is also director of NYU Law’s Information Law Institute. She has published widely on areas spanning the social, ethical, and political implications of information technology and digital media. Her latest book, Privacy in Context: Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life, has been cited as having had a defining influence on the Federal Trade Commission’s recent report on privacy. R

Robles-Anderson publishes across the fields of computer science, psychology, interaction design, and cultural studies on the relationships between architectures, technologies, and collective experiences.

About the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication
Media, Culture, and Communication, a department within NYU Steinhardt, advances scholarship in all areas of technology and society, with expertise in global media, digital technology, and media history. To discover more about MCC, visit:

To learn more about NYU Steinhardt, visit:


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NYU Steinhardt Researchers Awarded $1.625 Million to Partner with Intel for New Social Computing Initiative

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