Message from the Director

Prof Joanna Batstone

Dear Friends, Colleagues & Partners,

2021 was an exciting year for us at the Monash Data Futures Institute, despite being heavily influenced by the pandemic and fundamentally changing our definition of ‘normality’. I would like to share our many significant accomplishments during 2021, and look ahead to our exciting plans for 2022.

After joining Monash in August 2020, during the peak of the pandemic, it was energising to be able to return to our Monash campuses in January 2021 and spend time with our teams in person. Although we were working from home again for the second half of the year, it has been amazing to see how we have all risen to the challenges the pandemic has forced upon us and adapted so effectively to our hybrid work mode.

The Monash Data Futures Institute (MDFI) brings together a community of researchers from our 10 Faculties, including staff at our international campuses, with a focus on data science and Artificial Intelligence (AI) for social good; you can find our researchers here. Our Monash Data Futures Institute Affiliation Program, launched in 2020, was extended this year to include external members, to make vital contributions to the AI and data science community. With over 500 affiliates, including external partners, we are one of the largest such cohorts in Asia-Pacific.

Engaging in impactful research

We have had a productive and busy year helping to bring together teams from across Monash University to tackle large and significant research problems.

In 2021, the Institute launched 15 new projects to support AI and data science investments for multidisciplinary research teams addressing globally significant problems around climate change, geopolitical security and thriving communities. These investments support our Monash Impact 2030 strategy and we are excited to see these projects progress this coming year.

Our flagship research projects have seen notable success in attracting significant external grant funding (over $13M) from a wide range of sources including the ARC, NHMRC and international agencies such as the NIH. Examples include:

Our work on The 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, continued in 2021 with a focus on three important initiatives:

  • Social media analytics to assess impact on food security and food waste of the 2020 pandemic, with the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences.
  • Analysis of medicine use and safety, with the Faculty of Pharmacy.
  • Analysis of sexual and gender-based violence, with the Faculty of Arts.

A collaborative project between MDFI, Monash Sustainable Development Institute and the Faculties of Business and Economics and Information Technology, supported by the Paul Ramsay Foundation, is developing innovative methods for tracking and analysing the narratives of disadvantage in the media. We look forward to seeing our data visualisations live in the new Paul Ramsay Foundation headquarters in Sydney, early in 2022.

Study with us

We are committed to inspire and support the next generation of AI and data science researchers.

Our prestigious Monash Data Futures Institute PhD Scholarships program was launched in 2020 to support our flagship research projects, and our first cohort of PhD students started earlier this year. We have received tremendous interest from high quality students, both domestic and international, and our next cohort of students will be commencing in early 2022.

Collaborating with a global audience

We launched some exciting new programs in 2021 to enable broader reach and collaboration across an increasingly international audience.

The Monash Prato Dialogue is a new distinguished lecture series on AI and its impact on society. We hosted some of the most renowned thought leaders in the world to provoke inquiry and innovation, and to inspire transformative and positive social change through a deeper understanding and use of frontier AI and data science methods.

Please join us for our 2022 line up of lectures, including -

  • Prof Mariarosaria Taddeo, Associate Professor and Senior Research Fellow, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford - February 10th, 2022.
  • Prof Shannon Vallor, Baillie Gifford Chair in the Ethics of Data and Artificial Intelligence, Edinburgh Futures Institute - May 5th, 2022.

The Institute continued our partnership as a gold sponsor of the ITU United Nations AI for Good Summit, resulting in the production of three outstanding online events that attracted a large, diverse and international audience:

Our partnership with the ITU United Nations AI for Good Summit will continue in 2022 and reflects our strategy to build the international reputation and awareness of Monash University's vast AI and data science capabilities, through new and growing alliances with key global organisations.

In line with our commitment of supporting the next generation of female leaders in AI and rewarding excellence in the field, we supported the inaugural  Women in AI Awards - Australia/New Zealand as the Premium Partner in 2021, and joined the Advisory Board. We also presented the Grand Award of Women in AI Innovator of the Year 2021, which was won by Jamila Gordon, Founder & CEO of Lumachain. We will continue to support these awards in 2022 as the Premier Partner.

Additional events included:

  • Launch of our “virtual” MDFI Meetups to bring our Monash community together
  • Quarterly Lightning Talks on subjects including, “AI, Digital Technologies and the Law”, “AI Applications in Medical Imaging” and “Mathematics for Data Analysis, AI & Machine Learning”
  • ChangeMakers thought leadership series, in partnership with the Faculties of Law and IT - “An ethical future? Questioning the ecological and social implications of AI

Engage with us

We invite you to follow us and engage with us in 2022 in thoughtful conversations around AI and data science for social good. Our newly refreshed website enables access to the breadth of research at Monash, including our news and events. Our social media channels were launched this year, including a LinkedIn page, Twitter account and YouTube channel to continuously engage with our audience and use these channels to reflect Monash University’s thought leadership.

Looking forward to 2022

As we look ahead to this coming year, we are optimistic 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. Please reach out to explore new collaborations with us. You can sign up to join our Affiliation program to receive news about our research and events at the Institute.

We will continue with our Monash Prato Dialogue lecture series in 2022, leading up to the Institute led AI and data science conference in Prato, Italy next September. We will also be continuing with our Meetups, Lightning Talks and joint seminar series to engage our community in thought provoking discussions. Future rounds of our interdisciplinary PhD Scholarships will be declared soon, as we look forward to growing our student cohort in 2022.

Our Institute’s achievements in 2021 would not have been possible without my core team. My personal “Thanks” to the MDFI team for your leadership, agility, resilience and results in 2021.

Since we launched the Institute in 2019, one of our core focus areas has been on building a community. And like in any community, every individual matters. So most importantly, I thank YOU for your engagement with us.

Happy New Year!

Professor Joanna Batstone

Twitter - @jbatstone
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