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Faculty Team Competing to Set National Research Agenda: You Can Help

A team of Boise State University faculty are competing in an unprecedented opportunity to set the national agenda for research and science in the nation. The team’s proposal has advanced to the penultimate stage of the highly competitive National Science Foundation IDEA Machine 2026 Competition, which is open to public comment until June 26. These comments will be crucial to deciding the winners of the competition whose research questions will become the priorities of the National Science Foundation. 

Boise State’s team comprises five assistant professors in the computer science department: Maria Soledad Pera, Michael Ekstrand, Hoda Mehrpouyan, Catherine Olschanowsky and Elena Sherman. They are championing the need for technological systems that are accessible, equitable and benefiting all members of our diverse society.

“For all people to benefit from technology, we cannot blindly rely on trickle-down effects; we need to consider who might be underserved by our current technologies and design to meet their needs,” read a statement from the team.

Their statement continues: “We need to consider who experiences negative effects from technology, and investigate how to mitigate negative impact and ensure it is not too concentrated. We need to consider who is able to effectively benefit from technical systems, and whether access to those benefits is fairly distributed.”

This competition is designed to offer the brightest minds across the country a chance to propose the big questions that the NSF needs to address, and spur the scientific breakthroughs that must occur to solve complex, long-term problems facing society. Winners also will receive a cash prize of $26,000 and national recognition.

The team member’s combined areas of expertise (which include information retrieval, machine learning, fairness and discrimination, human-computer interaction, formal methods, privacy, cyber-physical systems, software development, high performance computing and real-time monitoring) inform their mission of achieving beneficent and equitable technological systems.

This proposal calls for a national research agenda to understand how the technical systems that we are building in to our society, such as social networking and other online media, large-scale automation, etc., affect us,” said Mehrpouyan. “We hope to see the insights that arise from this program result in better technologies and better policies that ensure these systems answer to people and not the other way around.”