Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Human communication in information and communication technologies

This research area covers the study of how humans interact with each other and how an understanding of these interactions can improve the design and development of information and communication technologies (ICT).

Partners involved:
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

The scope and what we're doing

This research area covers the study of how humans interact with one another – via spoken and written language, gesture, posture and touch, for example.

This research area explores how an understanding of such interactions can inform and improve the design and development of new information and communication technologies (ICT), including those designed to enhance social interactions. Research typically draws on methodologies from psychology, sociology, linguistics and related social sciences.

To maintain the discipline’s long-term health, this area should be balanced between underpinning and more application-driven work. Researchers should engage with challenges associated with the development of novel interaction technologies which underpin key areas such as social inclusion, and health and social care. In particular, the research community should have made substantial contributions to the development of collaborative, socially aware and socially acceptable intelligent technologies, as described in EPSRC’s future intelligent technologies cross-ICT priority.

To maximise the impact of research and address the identified priorities, research in this area must involve collaboration both within and outside ICT research. Researchers should address EPSRC’s cross-disciplinarity and co-creation cross-ICT priority and continue to develop and strengthen links to research throughout the ICT and the wider EPSRC portfolios.

This area’s close affiliation with psychology and the social sciences is also beneficial and increasingly important in many domains, including:

  • trust
  • identity
  • privacy
  • security
  • interaction design
  • robotics.

To address the identified challenges, researchers should demonstrate clear interactions and collaborations with researchers and stakeholders across this interface.

Why we're doing it

In this relatively small research area, expertise is often co-located with larger research programmes – primarily in the area of human computer interaction (HCI) but also in areas such as natural language processing and speech technology. Many outcomes from this collaborative research are world class.

Our current portfolio in this area has a good balance between different project sizes but is increasingly reliant on targeted, challenge-driven funding, although this reliance is notably less than for the larger related area of HCI.

In line with its relative size, the list of UK universities with expertise and funding in this area is relatively small but is considered enough to meet demands. A limited number of researchers identify as core to this area, but many carry out research in the area as part of collaborative projects. In line with this, there is also proportionate student provision to continue to train people with the necessary cross-disciplinary experience, with a good balance between Centre for Doctoral Training and Doctoral Training Partnership students.

This research area supports development of effective interaction technologies to increase inclusion in an increasingly connected world. It is of substantial relevance to the remit of the Digital Economy theme and has some relevance to issues of cybersecurity and assistive technologies. There are also increasing opportunities for the area to contribute to the human aspects of robotics and autonomous systems and development of collaborative and socially aware intelligent technologies. Research in this domain is, however, relatively underrepresented in our current portfolio.

Collaboration is at the heart of the research area and, in many ways, is essential to maximising the impact achieved as the primary pathway. Collaborative links with the social sciences, including psychology, HCI and in the area of speech, are well established and important to the development of advanced interaction technologies. There are opportunities to develop stronger collaborations with the wider information and communication technologies (ICT) community to enable development of socially aware computing technologies.

View evidence sources used to inform our research strategies.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Last updated: 21 December 2022

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