Message from the Director

Prof Joanna Batstone

Dear Friends, Colleagues & Partners,

As we approach the end of 2020, a year which has been unlike any other year, I would like to step back and reflect on all that we have accomplished at the Monash Data Futures Institute.

I joined Monash University in August, in the middle of a 112 day COVID-19 lockdown in Melbourne. This meant starting a new role entirely on-line with back to back zoom calls, meeting new team mates and building relationships entirely via video and phone calls. It’s been amazing to see the resilience of the Monash community as we have risen to the challenge and adapted so effectively to the new normal.  A huge THANK YOU to everyone who has welcomed me into Monash in this extraordinary year, and a very special THANKS to the Monash Data Futures Institute team for leading the work around AI and data science for social good.

As I reflect on my first 100 days at Monash University, I would like to highlight some of our many significant accomplishments associated with our key investment areas of:

  • AI & data science for health sciences
  • AI & data science for sustainable development,
  • AI & data science for better governance and policy

The Monash Data Futures Institute’s engagement with the ITU United Nations AI for Social Good Summit is a new, significant partnership for us, resulting in the production of three outstanding on-line events that attracted a large, diverse and international audience:

Our partnership with  the ITU United Nations AI for Social Good Summit will continue in 2021 and reflects our strategy to build the international reputation and awareness of Monash's vast AI and data science capabilities, through new and growing alliances with key global organisations.  Please reach out to us to engage and participate in 2021 events.

We have had a productive and busy year helping to bring teams together from across Monash University to tackle large and significant research problems,  and to apply for funding from a wide range of sources including ARC Centres of Excellence, ARC Industrial Transformation Training Centres, NHMRC Centres of Research Excellence, NHMRC Special Initiatives, MRFF and Some notable successes include: Genomics, Digital Health and Machine Learning: the SuperbugAi Flagship, Net Zero Precincts: an interdisciplinary approach to decarbonising cities.

Our 2020 Research agenda progressed well with 14 interdisciplinary research projects from integrated project teams across 10 Faculties (Arts, Business and Economics, Engineering, Education, IT, Law, MADA, Medicine, Nursing and Health sciences, Pharmacy, and Science.)

We have made progress in the dialog around AI policy, trust, public engagement and digital literacy for AI, publishing an important study on Australian Public Attitudes towards AI, that generated significant media interest and engagement. Prof Neil Selwyn (Faculty of Education) was interviewed by ABC Radio National. The whitepaper can be downloaded from Monash Library Bridges.

Our work on data science has featured strongly this year in the new Melbourne Experiment, a landmark interdisciplinary research collaboration studying the effects of COVID-19 on the functions of a city and an international model for post-COVID-19 urban recovery and renewal.

Highlights from these projects include:

Our on-line program of networking events and webinars enabled us to reach a growing international audience:

  • With the Monash Sustainable Development Institute, we co-hosted an external webinar featuring five projects that illustrate the application of AI and data science for Sustainable Development. Please watch the recording of this event here:
  • Our external webinar on Australian Public Attitudes towards AI included a dialogue with  the Australian Human Rights Commissioner and Victorian Government’s Privacy commissioner.
  • The dialog around the need for AI digital literacy continued with a Panel Discussion on: Learning for the Future of Work and Society as part of the conference on Empowering Learners for the Age of AI
  • In partnership with the Faculty of Law, we hosted an external webinar on Ethics in AI - involving CSIRO/Data 61 and the Author of Australia’s ‘AI Ethics Framework’
  • We hosted an on-line external webinar that brought together industry experts and Monash University Faculty with expertise in AI, sociology, healthy aging and aged care to explore the use of AI in creating assistive technologies for the elderly and delivering improved Aged Care services. . This project is part of a broader set of investments with the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, including the Turner Institute’s work around Aging Well and the National Center for Healthy Aging
  • Our Monash “Lightning Talks” event in November featuring 14 interdisciplinary research projects  generated significant interest and excitement.
  • We sponsored a special seminar series on AI in Neuroscience in partnership with the Central Clinical School in the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences.

We launched the Monash Data Futures Institute Affiliation Program in September to build a broader community of AI and data science researchers and practitioners across Monash. We have made a good start to form a strong and collaborative network of researchers and academic institutions that will grow to make a vital contribution to data science and AI through seminars, webinars and events. To date, over 360 Monash staff from many Faculties have joined our network. We welcome all researchers interested in AI and data science, their applications and impacts to become Affiliates of the Institute via this link .

I was delighted to be able to announce the new Monash Data Futures Institute PhD Scholarships in October. These scholarships aim to support a global, unique interdisciplinary PhD program with a focus on the application of AI and data science for societal benefit. We look forward to welcoming our first students in 2021.

As we look ahead to next year, we are excited about the future and the opportunity to accelerate scientific breakthroughs, nurture and grow new projects and build deep partnerships and collaborations with universities, industry, government and philanthropic organisations. We have learned so much about the need to accelerate and experiment with new methods of digital engagement in our community and external outreach programs and we look forward to growing this engagement with our research communities and the public.

To stay in touch with us at the Monash Data Futures Institute, please follow our news and events on our website, follow us on our internal Monash workplace group and follow our leadership team on LinkedIn and Twitter - we would love to invite you to join the conversation around AI and data science for social good.

I wish you all a peaceful and restful holiday season. I hope to meet you (in person) in 2021!

Professor Joanna Batstone

Twitter: @jbatstone