Kaleidoscope: where social and technical sciences meet

kaleidoscope-blogI remember that day in early 2007 quite vividly – my first trip to ITU. The Cooperation between ITU-T and Universities: Consultation Meeting aimed to discuss the link between academic research and standardization. Having just completed the final report on the ‘Interest’ project, an EU project that investigated this same topic, some of our  team were quick to grasp the opportunity to tackle the issue within the United Nations framework.

In the Consultation Meeting, we discussed a number of ideas and suggestions that ITU’s Standardization Sector (ITU-T) had come up with to increase the participation of academics in its various working groups. The underlying idea was to identify trends in research that might be exploited for standards setting at a fairly early stage. To me, that looked like a very valid approach; all the more so as I felt, and still feel, that academics had not been overly popular in standards-setting circles for quite a while after the ‘debacle’ surrounding the standardization of the Open Systems Interconnection protocols.

One of the many ideas discussed back in 2007 was the development of a conference that would invite academic papers looking into the more distant future, as opposed to ‘how we did it’ papers. The papers would look at, or perhaps even create, new trends in information and communication technology (ICT) that would lend themselves to standardization.

As it turned out, the Kaleidoscope academic conference was the first idea to be implemented following the Consultation Meeting. Other recommendations followed, such as ‘Academia’ membership in ITU-T. I like to think that the people from the ‘Interest’ project managed to incorporate a track into Kaleidoscope for papers looking at the socio-economic aspects of standards, standardization processes and associated technologies, in addition to the tracks on ‘technology and network infrastructure’ and ‘applications and services’. Yes, one conference bringing together engineers and computer scientists with people from the social sciences is a bit of a tightrope walk. But from what I’ve heard so far, including from very technically oriented colleagues, Kaleidoscope has managed it quite well.

In fact, to me, that is the outstanding characteristic of the Kaleidoscope series of conferences. A single-track conference by design, it exposes technical people to social-science papers, and social scientists get a glimpse into the world of ICT. Plus, members of both groups get an opportunity to talk to each other and discuss problems from different perspectives. This is a clear bonus; after all, in our increasingly complex world, many apparently purely technical problems also have a strong socio-economic dimension.

The theme of this year’s Kaleidoscope conference, ‘Trust in the Information Society’, is a very good example of this intertwining. Can technology help create trust? If so, how? Is technology trustworthy? And how can we reconcile alleged data infringements and opaque privacy policies to ensure people’s trust in ICT?  Questions like this cannot be fully answered by technologists or social scientists alone.

If you’re interested in problems relating to trust, privacy and data security, and in multi-disciplinary approaches to address and perhaps solve them, Barcelona is the place you want to be from 9 to 11 December 2015. The paper submission deadline is 6 July if you would like to contribute to the conference actively. More information on the conference and how to register can be found here. See you there!

Kai Jakobs
kaiKai joined RWTH Aachen University’s Computer Science Department as a member of technical staff in 1985. Since 1987, he has been Head of Technical Staff at the Chair of Informatik 4 (Communication & Distributed Systems).
Kai is Vice President of the European Academy for Standardisation (EURAS). He is also founder and editor-in-chief of the ‘International Journal on IT Standards & Standardization Research’, the ‘Advances in Information Technology Standards and Standardization Research’ and the ‘EURAS Contributions to Standardisation Research’ book series.
He holds a PhD in Computer Science from the University of Edinburgh and is a Certified Standards Professional.

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