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Kind scholars, wicked problems: Life in a Centre for Doctoral Training in Cybersecurity

Niamh F Healy24 September 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated our reliance on digital technologies as we have used them to work, to stay in contact with friends and family, and even to tackle the virus itself. The use of these technologies is not without risks however, as shown in the increase in cyber-attacks during the pandemic.

UCL’s Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Cybersecurity is a new initiative set up to train the next generation of thinkers who will tackle these issues of cybersecurity and emerging technology. The Centre is formed across three UCL departments – Computer Science, Security and Crime Science, and Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (STEaPP) – reflecting the program’s cross-disciplinary intentions. The CDT is founded on the acknowledgement that issues of cybersecurity and emerging technologies necessitate thinkers who can navigate disciplinary boundaries, for problems of cybersecurity cannot be neatly contained within one subject box. I am a member of the CDT’s first cohort and have just finished my first year of the four-year programme. It has been a fascinating albeit challenging year!

CDT in Cybersecurity cohort

CDT in Cybersecurity cohort

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Understanding Engineering Advice in Policy Practice

laurent.liote.1920 August 2020

Laurent Liote is a first year PhD student at UCL STEaPP. He is also a member of the 21st Century Decision Making research unit. Follow him on LinkedIn (Laurent Liote) and twitter (@LaurentLiote).

“So, what’s your PhD on again?”

What is the worst question you can ask a PhD student? You guessed it, the classic “so what’s your topic then?”. I generally mumble academic buzzwords for three minutes before looking at my confused interlocutor and concluding: “Huh, basically political science”. So, this post is my attempt at clearly explaining what my research is about, and by extension what the next three years of my life will look like.

My research interest was sparked by something I read in the 2018 National Infrastructure Commission report (yes, I read those for fun): “policy design [is to be] embedded into the engineering-driven culture of infrastructure planning”. This raises several questions, what is an engineering-driven culture and what does that mean for engineering expertise in the policy process? More digging revealed that very little research had been done on engineering advice for policy; no one had systematically looked at why interactions between engineering experts and other policy officials happen the way they do and what that means for the policy process.

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Coordinating Innovation (Policy): an Introduction to my PhD Research Topic

Andreas P Kopp11 August 2020

Andreas Kopp, a final year PhD candidate at UCL STEaPP and UCL IIPP and member of the Digital Technologies Policy Lab, elaborates on his doctoral research project and explains what’s so difficult about governing innovation. 

The challenge of innovation policy is coordination

There are no simple, prescribed solutions to such global issues as mitigating climate change or ensuring sustainable urban mobility. Instead, these require long-term contributions of many different economic sectors, governments, public agencies, and individual stakeholders. Increasingly, governments avert to drafting ‘mission-oriented’ innovation policies, i.e. systemic policies that cut across sectors in an attempt to enable the purposeful innovation of technologies towards a desired direction, rather than prescribing a closely defined solution. In other words, governments are ‘tilting the playing field’.

Shared, sustainable autonomous vehicles at Lindholmen Science Park, Gothenburg, Sweden (Kopp 2019)

Shared, sustainable autonomous vehicles at Lindholmen Science Park, Gothenburg, Sweden (Kopp 2019)

This often results in innovations that are not only technically highly complex, but also re-define human behaviour – so called socio-technical systems. They also span across different policy areas and therefore pose a new challenge for policy makers and policy implementers: they trigger coordination problems across policy domains and across government authorities, as existing policies might contradict each other, or relevant policies and regulations might be missing entirely.

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Responsible Governance of Digital Identity

nishant.anand.1928 July 2020

Digital Technology & Society

Our lives are increasingly spent with or around digital technologies. We use these technologies to work, interact with friends, institutions, government and the world around us. Digital technologies are not just a conduit for interactions, increasingly our sense of being is also intertwined with these systems. We use these technologies to project our image to the world, to build professional identity and to engage with communities that we identify with. Such technologies also provide institutions with a new level of intimacy with the people they serve and the promise of being able to provide tailored services efficiently and effectively.

Nishant Anand

Nishant Anand

Yet using such technologies comes with consequences. What would have been ephemeral conversations are now recorded, archived and made searchable. Our interactions through digital technologies are logged and analysed to provide more tailored services or predict future actions. The proliferation of digital technologies has led to concerns around surveillance, privacy infringement and a loss of autonomy.

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Academic Conferences in Crisis Mode – a verdict

Andreas P Kopp12 June 2020

What works and what doesn’t when conferencing online

Academic conferences are among the most important events for researchers. It is the place where you get to present results and receives feedback, where you can put your own name out there and show your face to the academic world, and where you get to network, meet heroes and heroines, academic crushes, and friends from across the globe. Conferencing is one of the perks of academic life – especially for early career researchers and PhD students, who rely on the networks gained at conferences for knowledge sharing and continued learning, for future collaborations, and above all, for the academic job hunt.

Three out of four conferences I planned to attend in 2020 are now over – one has been cancelled, two were transferred to online conferences. In addition, various workshops I meant to attend in person also ‘went digital’. It is time for some reflections and a verdict about academic conferencing during the current global crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic. These are my personal reflections, and your experience might be different. I think, however, that I capture some general aspects that might have been observed by many colleagues out there.

Coffee at desk

Cosily conferencing at home with better coffee, but less socialising

 

First of all, kudos to the many organisers who in most cases had very little time to change entire conferences to online layouts – it must have been stressful. Yet, it worked just fine most of the time. All the participants usually understand that these are different, challenging times, so nobody takes any hiccups seriously but instead remains patient and calm.

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