GC2 Futures Initiative

GC2 Futures Initiative

SIF202 Grand Challenge Research Investment Phase 2: Digital Technology Futures Initiative

Project Manager: Phil Bourne

Approved: Fall 2023

Project Dates: 1/1/2024 – 12/31/2028

Total Funding: $1,500,000

Executive Summary

Technological developments like ChatGPT leave the university vulnerable. We are being reactionary to events that have already occurred rather than being actionary. Imagining what the future UVA will look like and making decisions today that meet that future is the goal of the Futures Initiative (FI). Futures are hard, but we must try making key decisions now to meet that future to provide a competitive advantage over our peers. Our students, faculty and staff deserve no less.

The Futures Initiative was announced at Datapalooza on Nov. 10, 2023 and is intended as a university-wide effort with the opportunity for a wide variety of thought leaders to contribute. During the first year we will gather thought leaders to converse through targeted visits by futurists, town halls, podcasts, and a variety of events proposed by those leaders. A recent blog highlights a few examples of what this future might look like and to provide context one is repeated here.

A history major is studying the life and times of Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States and founder of UVA. Today that involves online reading and human interpretation and possibly physical work in accessing special collections that have yet to be digitized. In a few years it will be possible to call up, via a virtual reality headset, a timeline of Jefferson’s life and a social network of whom, when, and where he interacted. A timeline automatically generated by natural language processing. Zooming into the laying of the UVA cornerstone on Oct. 6, 1817, a simulated conversation between two former presidents, Jefferson and James Madison, and sitting President James Monroe can take place using generative AI. Looking around the small gathering using virtual reality there is a 360-degree view of what the future Academical Village looked like prior to any building occurring. This is a simulated and possibly error-prone form of history brought to life at a price and technology point that is not here today, but will be in five years. For students, questioning and debating such events takes on a new meaning and a new form of learning in a virtual and simulated environment. For faculty this represents a new form of pedagogy and teaching in a virtual as opposed to a real world. Few teachers and learners are equipped for this future.

What must UVA/SDS do to meet this future? COVID and Zoom changed how we learn and teach. It will never revert fully to a pre-COVID time. Virtual reality that truly lives up to the name could change classrooms and indeed the demographics of our students. Already hybrid is the norm. What happens when the virtual student experience gets closer to the real one? Student demographics change. Modes of learning change. We need to prepare by prototyping courses and virtual classrooms that can meet this future.

We need to start to prepare for this future NOW, hence the Futures Initiative.

Current Status: Award in Progress