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“Already filling my calendar with meetings”

Published: February 12, 2021

After three days at the WASP-HS Winter Conference 2021 Dominika Lisy is filling her calendar with new meetings with other PhD students in the WASP-HS program. In this blog post she highlights several memorable moments of motivational and inspiring talks, critical questions and opinions from the conference. Dominika is a PhD student at Linköping University with a project on empathy and social robots from a feminist philosophy. The project is part of the WASP-HS program.

The last three days have been intense but immensely rewarding and generative. Even though our PhD cohort at WASP-HS already had courses together, it was the first time since our initial meeting in October last year that we shared our ideas and plans for our individual PhD projects.

It was clear that not everything is carved in stone yet, but I think this first winter conference offered the unique opportunity to be part of each other’s work in these early stages and to develop a wider view on issues around AI and autonomous systems.

The PhD projects address a variety of topics through theoretical and practical approaches about ethics, decision-making, trust, care, design, politics, economics, and legal issues. Some students work on improving AI methods and dealing with issues around data interpretability and collection. Others work on improving usability and design of AI and robots for a positive and meaningful social impact.

My project on empathy and social robots from a feminist philosophy perspective had overlap with many great projects and I am already filling my calendar with meetings for the upcoming weeks to follow up on the shared interests.

Honestly, I am already excited about the conference in one year when we will see how much these ideas progress, transform, or even travel to other spaces through publications and presentations.

My personal highlight was an inspiring reflection by Johan Eddebo who invited us to explore the philosophical assumptions in our research and to start by asking questions about our definitions of success in interdisciplinary research, what knowledge we want to contribute, and the social importance of our work. Not only did his appeal to philosophical grounding resonate with my own research goals, but these three questions offer an intellectual ground to meet, to explore, and to build on as a group of researchers with a variety of backgrounds at WASP-HS.

Besides motivational and inspiring talks, I was very pleased to hear critical questions and opinions. Some PhDs voiced important critique about using AI and robots in society and worked in their projects on innovative approaches. I am convinced that as WASP-HS students, it is our co-responsibility to channel the opportunities of these new technologies and to avoid pitfalls and black boxes that only re-establish harmful power imbalances.

Also the panel discussion, moderated by Helena Lindgren, raised important issues about the challenges of interdisciplinary research. Ericka Johnson pointed out that knowing the disciplinary career structures and differences in traditions and theories of knowledge is essential and that PhDs need support in learning to navigate the expectations and practical aspects of academic work. Frank Dignum complemented with the importance of making an effort to learn about each other’s knowledges and methods with curiosity, and Ingar Brinck proposed to start by developing a common language and really spending the time to connect and to overcome differences in our understandings together.

As interdisciplinary scholars, it is important to communicate one’s own standpoints clearly and to challenge each other while showing kindness and curiosity and caring together about the issues we want to address with our projects. I am really looking forward to the future of this cohort of friends and colleagues, and the ways we will bridge knowledges within and beyond WASP-HS which really fostered our interdisciplinary exchange with this conference.

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