From 2005-2022, H-STAR pursued its mission in a number of ways, all built on the core belief in the power of collaboration: we organized interdisciplinary grants, contracts, and other funding opportunities; we brought together faculty to work collaboratively on projects — both across the campus and in collaboration with faculty at other universities around the world; and we organized events such as lectures, small seminars, workshops and conferences, sometimes through our mediaX, ChangeLabs, Behavior Design Lab and International Visiting Scholars programs.
Because the problems we focused on were generally extremely broad, requiring the expertise of many different disciplines, H-STAR was not built on a fixed membership model. All Stanford faculty were eligible to participate in H-STAR supported research, as were faculty from universities anywhere in the world.
A crossroads for Interdisciplinary Research
H-STAR was a crossroads for people, expertise, projects, and programs that connect Stanford resources in human sciences with research and innovation about information technology. The social problems found at this intersection were significant, challenging, and in flux, in part because there was no social equivalent to Moore’s Law — technological capabilities are expanding far more rapidly than are the social and cultural adaptations to their properties and prospects.
At the individual level, technology may be difficult to use, limiting its potential benefits: it can join people — but also separate them; it can teach — but also distract and create new inequities; and it can accelerate work and life — but also interfere and overwhelm.
At the social level, technology both threatens and enhances our security, whether in the home, community or workplace.
The “digital divide” highlights how information technology is distributed unevenly on the basis of economics, knowledge, language, and culture. And technology is a primary business force that can make products and services better, cheaper, and faster, while also transforming their fundamental character in disruptive waves that create new marketplaces and communication revolutions.
H-STAR addressed these individual and societal challenges with research and innovation that preserves the details, literatures, and methods of traditional disciplines while benefiting from the emergent synergies and surprises that come from interdisciplinary ventures.
The human science literatures represented in H-STAR included the cognitive sciences and neurosciences, linguistics, logic, symbolic systems, learning sciences and education, philosophy, sociological and anthropological studies of social interaction mediated by technologies, information processing, emotions, persuasion and rhetoric, visualization and vision sciences, and work about oral, written, visual and musical production.
The information technologies that H-STAR influenced included computing and media systems of all shapes and sizes that can understand and produce language, faces, gestures and emotions, and systems that can automate human-machine dialogue, display information in different formats and sizes, and create collaborative work and learning spaces, incorporating agents, avatars, gaming, and immersive environments.
An Innovative Structure
Interdisciplinary research institutes are nothing new in leading universities. As the complexity of modern life and new technologies increased, so too has the need to combine expertise in order to better study new ways of working and playing, to analyze how people use new technologies and gain insights leading to better design. Typically such interdisciplinary institutes are created by means of a collaborative initiative by individuals in two or three academic disciplines. H-STAR took a significant step beyond.
H-STAR cut across the entire university, bringing together leading scholars from many disciplines, some of which had traditionally been far apart, such as engineering and theater studies, communications and art, or medical informatics and psychology. What defined H-STAR, and what united the Stanford researchers who participated in the new Institute, was a passionate interest in the disciplines that contribute to the interdisciplinary mix of the Institute, and the ways in which people and technology interact — interests that were at the same time well defined yet so broad as to be campus wide.
At the close of H-STAR in March of 2022, a total of 64 Stanford researchers from all five schools had carried out research funded through H-STAR, participated in an H-STAR research planning retreat, or hosted a visiting H-STAR researcher from another university or a mediaX member company. In addition, over 115 Stanford faculty members had received over $5.5M in research support through H-STAR’s affiliate program, mediaX at Stanford University.