The Network Institute studies the interaction between digital technology and society, or what is often called: the Digital Society.

Digital technology – from social robotics to smart mobile devices, from global social media networks to fluent natural language processing tools, from realistic virtual environments to knowledgeable virtual agents – is rapidly changing, and society is changing with it. At the same time, new societal problems may emerge, and technological solutions are sought for.

Digital technologies and societal processes thus become increasingly entwined. To study how both interact, it is not always sufficient to look at things from a monodisciplinary approach. Instead, we should encourage researchers from different backgrounds to work together and challenge their ideas and working routines. Such challenging interdisciplinary collaborations are exactly what the Network Institute aims to facilitate.

As an example: to build a social robot, social scientists are needed to understand how social cues are mediated, AI-scholars are needed to model the encoding, processing, and decoding of social information, and computational linguists are needed to relate the social cues to language utterings. Without any of these perspectives, social robots will not come to full potential.

With its interdisciplinary focus, its extensive size, and its well-established organization, the Network Institute is uniquely positioned. Within the VU, it is a central player in realizing the VU’s Connected World research agenda. Meanwhile, many VU researchers have benefited from their Network Institute-based collaborations, and the institute has introduced interdisciplinary research work to a generation of young VU scholars.