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Team studies creative design process at the human-technology frontier

Interdisciplinary team collaborates on NSF-funded study of the creative design process at the human-technology frontier

Due to advances in technology, the nature of work and jobs is changing in every domain. Creative skills are being ranked as most valuable for future workers across the board, but how can we prepare students to develop those skills when Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) are changing the creative design process itself?  A one-year $150,000 planning grant awarded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to the University of Rochester aims to address this question, starting September 1, 2020.
The project, called “Exploring Creative Design at the Human-Technology Frontier Through the Emerging ‘Artist-Technologist’ Occupation,” is funded by the NSF Future of Work at the Human-Technology Frontier (FW-HTF) program, one of 10 interdisciplinary programs established in 2016 by NSF to pursue long-term research ideas to advance investment in science and engineering. The overarching vision of the FW-HTF program is to support convergent research to understand and develop the human-technology partnership, design new technologies to augment human performance, illuminate the emerging socio-technological landscape, understand the risks and benefits of new technologies, understand and influence the impact of artificial intelligence on workers and work, and foster lifelong and pervasive learning. Learn more about the FW-HTF program.
To explore the creative skills needed by tomorrow’s workforce and how these skills can be best developed, the Rochester project will study the emerging occupation of “artist-technologist,” with an initial focus on musicians and composers. As experts in both arts and technology who see no barriers between these two fields, artist-technologists are in a unique position to design previously inconceivable media products with relevance and applications, not only for arts and entertainment but for many other fields as well, including education, health care, marketing, and new product development in most industries.
This study brings together an interdisciplinary team of 24 researchers and practitioners from across the Rochester region. The team includes faculty, students, and staff from the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education, Eastman School of Music, College of Arts, Sciences and Engineering, Goergen Institute for Data Science, Greene Center for Career Education and Connections, Ain Center for Entrepreneurship, Center for Emerging and Innovative Sciences (CEIS), Center for Disability and Education, Center for Learning in the Digital Age, and Institute for Music Leadership, as well as RIT’s MAGIC Spell Studios and School of Individualized Study, and Monroe 2-Orleans BOCES Center for Workforce Development. The team will leverage their complementary expertise in the arts, AR/VR, AI, engineering, learning sciences, education, business, entrepreneurship, career education, ethics, and disabilities to explore how specific applications of AR/VR and AI may affect artist-technologists’ creative process, professional identity, overall work experience, preparation, as well as related equity and inclusion issues.
The study will include interviews with key stakeholders (modeled after NSF’s I-Corps program) to gain a better understanding of their experiences and to identify unmet needs for artist-technologists. The team will then form three task forces centered on the following focus areas: the impact of AI and AR/VR on the artist-technologists’ design process, effectively preparing future artist-technologists to make the best use of AI and AR/VR in their work, and increasing access to this occupation by underrepresented populations. A series of team learning experiences and workshops will inform this collaborative work, while also supporting the project team in creating synergies among the necessary interdisciplinary expertise and strategies with the ultimate goal of formulating a competitive proposal for a major FW-HTF grant. 
Principal investigator Raffaella Borasi, Frederica Warner professor of education and LiDA Center director, is heading the team. Co-principal investigators include: Mark Bocko, distinguished professor in electrical and computer engineering and CEIS director; Zhiyao Duan, associate professor in electrical and computer engineering; James Doser, director, Institute for Music Leadership; and Joseph Testani, associate vice provost for career education and Greene Center director.
“It is so exciting to work with a team representing so many different areas of expertise,” says Borasi, former dean of the Warner School for 18 years. “I am looking forward to what we can learn from each other, not just for this project, but as a springboard for future projects—in the spirit of our new dean Sarah Peyre’s goal of increasing interdisciplinary collaborations across the University of Rochester and the region.”
Editor’s Note: Raffaella Borasi, principal investigator, is available for interviews to discuss the interdisciplinary, NSF-funded project, “Exploring Creative Design at the Human-Technology Frontier Through the Emerging ‘Artist-Technologist’ Occupation.”