Posted: November 20, 2019

Full proposals due March 9, 2020

n 2016, the National Science Foundation (NSF) unveiled a set of “Big Ideas," 10 bold, long-term research and process ideas that identify areas for future investment at the frontiers of science and engineering (see The Big Ideas represent unique opportunities to position our Nation at the cutting edge of global science and engineering leadership by bringing together diverse disciplinary perspectives to support convergence research. As such, when responding to this solicitation, even though proposals must be submitted to the Directorate for Engineering (ENG), Office of Emerging Frontiers and Multidisciplinary Activities (ENG/EFMA), once received the proposals will be managed by a cross-disciplinary team of NSF Program Directors.

The Future of Work at the Human-Technology Frontier (FW-HTF), one of the Big Ideas, is one mechanism by which NSF is responding to the challenges and opportunities for the future of jobs and work. The overarching vision is to support convergent research to understand and develop the human-technology partnership, design new technologies to augment human performance, illuminate the emerging socio-technological landscape, understand the risks and benefits of new technologies, understand and influence the impact of artificial intelligence on workers and work, and foster lifelong and pervasive learning.

The landscape of jobs and work is changing at unprecedented speed, enabled by advances in computer science and engineering, deeper understanding of societal and environmental change, advances in the learning sciences, and new conceptions of work and workplaces. This technological and scientific revolution presents a historical opportunity to the Nation and its people, in the creation of new industries and occupations, enhanced productivity and quality of work life, and the potential for more people to participate in the workforce, ultimately yielding sustained innovation and global leadership. But, as history teaches, such changes also come with risks. Some risks are immediate, such as jobs lost to automation or demand for skills not met by current educational pathways. Other equally important risks include new security threats, algorithmic biases, unanticipated legal consequences including privacy implications, dependence on technology and erosion of human knowledge and skills, inadequate workplace policies and practices, or undesirable impact on the built environment.

The specific objectives of the Future of Work at the Human-Technology Frontier program are to (1) facilitate convergent research that employs the joint perspectives, methods, and knowledge of computer science, design, engineering, learning sciences, research on education and workforce training, and social, behavioral, and economic sciences; (2) encourage the development of a research community dedicated to designing intelligent technologies and work organization and modes inspired by their positive impact on individual workers, the work at hand, the way people learn and adapt to technological change, creative and supportive workplaces (including remote locations, homes, classrooms, or virtual spaces), and benefits for social, economic, educational, and environmental systems at different scales; (3) promote deeper basic understanding of the interdependent human-technology partnership to advance societal needs by advancing design of intelligent work technologies that operate in harmony with human workers, including consideration of how adults learn the new skills needed to interact with these technologies in the workplace, and by enabling broad workforce participation, including improving accessibility for those challenged by physical or cognitive impairment; and (4) understand, anticipate, and explore ways of mitigating potential risks arising from future work at the human-technology frontier. Ultimately, this research will advance understanding of how technology and people interact, distribute tasks, cooperate, and complement each other in different specific work contexts of significant societal importance. It will advance the knowledge base related to worker education and training and formal and informal learning to enable all potential workers to adapt to changing work environments. It will advance our understanding of the links between the future of work at the human-technology frontier and the surrounding society, including the intended potential of new technologies and the unintended consequences for workers and the well-being of society.

For the purposes of this solicitation, work is defined as mental or physical activity to achieve tangible benefit such as income, profit, or community welfare. The Future of Work at the Human-Technology Frontier is, in turn, a conceptualization of work in the future that will be enabled or improved by advances in intelligent technology and their synergistic integration with human skill to achieve broad participation in the workforce and improve the social, economic, and environmental well-being of society. To reach this goal, research is sought that is anchored in work. Proposals must clearly define the work and work context addressed by the research. Technological innovations should be integrated with advances in the learning sciences, research on education and workforce training, and social, behavioral, and economic science perspectives. Potential results should contribute to fundamental advances in optimizing the human-technology team, the science and technology of future workforce development and education, work environments, and positive work outcomes for workers and society at large. Proposals are encouraged that are oriented toward the future of work at the human-technology frontier and that are not overly couched in current technology or work practices.

A proposal for a research grant in this program must focus on advancing fundamental understanding of future work, and potential improvements to work, workplaces, workforce preparation, or work outcomes for workers and society. It must be convergent research that addresses the human and societal dimensions as well as the technological innovation and their potential impact on future work. In doing so, the research should make significant contributions to both intellectual merit and broader impact. Achieving this goal requires integration and convergence of disciplines across behavioral science, computer science, economic science, engineering, learning sciences, research on education and workforce training, and the social sciences. A convergent perspective is essential to understand and shape long-term social and economic drivers, so that advanced intelligent technology will strengthen the social fabric. A convergent perspective also provides insights into education and re-skilling, so that the benefits of emerging technology can be conferred upon both current and future workers.

Proposals in which one discipline or set of skills is mainly in service of the others are not appropriate. Ideally, the research will be interdependent, integrated, and will contribute novel understanding and impact on the Future of Work at the Human-Technology Frontier. Such integration and impact may require extra effort in leadership, regular communication, and cross-training.

Read the full solicitation here.

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