“The future of work has always been a research interest of many of the faculty of the iSchool. Especially how the nature of work is changing with increased capabilities of information technology,” says iSchool Professor Kevin Crowston. Because of this collective interest, faculty created The Center for the Futures of Work, Information and Technology. The Center will serve as a hub for sharing ideas and research between faculty, students, and eventually third-party partnerships; it will help to generate momentum around topics, and to secure research funding.

One motivation for creating the Center comes from the ongoing conversations about automation and augmentation in the workplace. As an example of the kinds of projects the Center seeks to promote, Crowston—with a colleague from the Newhouse School, and a few from other institutions—has secured a grant to study the future of journalism. Some researchers and tech companies envision automated “robot journalists”, able to write news stories with no human input. In contrast, Crowston’s project seeks to develop tools that support journalists and allow them to work more effectively and efficiently. A particular concern is understanding how journalists adopt and learn to use new technologies. Crowston and the team aim to build tools that will not be overly burdensome or time-consuming for journalists to implement into their current practices. 

Another motivation for creating the Center revolves around the ongoing conversations about the ways technology is changing the nature of the workplace. Professor Steve Sawyer is particularly interested in the hyper-accelerated integration of technology into modern work environments. He is studying the changing dynamics between workers and employers, the relationships between resource allocation and capital distribution, the mechanics and trends of the online labor market, and the future of work for knowledge-based workers. Sawyer views the opening of the Center as a timely initiative and says, “With all the changes to the economy, to organizations, to the structure of work, and seeing the continued waves of new digital technologies, the time is right to bring together scholars, students, organizations and funding to focus on the fast-shifting human/machine boundary.” With so many exciting questions surrounding the future of work and workplaces, why not organize a dedicated center to tackle some of these pressing issues collaboratively?

Students will be able to get involved in the Center in a number of different ways. There will be research projects, a speaker series, and partnerships with outside companies that share common interests with the Center. Through these organized events and relationships, there will be many opportunities for students and faculty to actively participate in the mission of the Center.

The first planned center event is a kick-off panel. Several of the founding members will make themselves available to answer questions and to share their own visions for the futures of work. This event will be a chance to learn more about some of the research projects underway, as well as the curriculum development that founders of the Center are working towards.