In October 2018, two new research projects – Giving Voice to Digital Democracies: The Social Impact of Artificially Intelligent Communications Technology and Expertise Under Pressure – will inaugurate the Centre for the Humanities and Social Change, Cambridge. We are delighted to welcome Professor Ian Roberts, Principal Investigator of Giving Voice to Digital Democracies, to the Centre and asked about his hopes for the project.

Ian Roberts is Professor of Linguistics in the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages at the University of Cambridge. Read his biography here.

Q. Professor Roberts, which aspect of Giving Voice to Digital Democracies do you find most exciting?

The project provides a great opportunity for thinking through some of the linguistic challenges posed by contemporary language-based technologies. These challenges range from the ethics of linguistic behaviour to the many ways in which social bias is conveyed by means of syntax and lexis. In order to create better technological solutions, it is essential to understand the problems from a linguistic perspective – and that is an exciting prospect.

Q. How does your own area of interest relate to the project’s primary research questions?

My own research focuses upon theoretical linguistics, and specifically comparative syntax. Therefore I have a lot of experience in comparing and contrasting different languages, and in understanding how and why they differ in terms of their underlying linguistic structures. These topics relate directly to this project’s emphasis on artificially intelligent systems that analyse or generate linguistic forms in different languages.

Q. What are your hopes for the Centre for the Humanities and Social Change?

I hope that it manages to bring together academics, experts, and policy-makers from a wide range of different disciplines, to create a forum in which new ideas can be exchanged and discussed. The fact that the Humanities and Social Change International Foundation is an independent and non-partisan organisation is crucial, since it ensures that those involved with the research it undertakes are not subject to undesirable constraints of any kind.

Meet the Giving Voice to Digital Democracies Team: 

• Professor Ian Roberts, Principal Investigator
• Professor Bill Byrne, Co-Investigator
• Professor Ann Copestake, Co-Investigator
• Dr Marcus Tomalin, Senior Research Associate
• Dr Stefanie Ullmann, Postdoctoral Research Associate
• Dr Shauna Concannon, Postdoctoral Research Associate


Tel: +44 1223 766886