We are coming off one of the most difficult years in human memory, yet the IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology (SSIT) managed to perform quite well in spite of the pandemic and its fallout. In 2020, our flagship ISTAS conference and the cosponsored conferences were huge successes, with record attendance, partly because going virtual allowed wider participation. Our new publication, IEEE Transactions in Technology and Society, was launched successfully with a stellar set of articles that are already attracting citations, and there are increasing number of articles ready for submissions. IEEE Technology and Society Magazine continues its decades-long run as the key forum for thoughtful articles about the social implications of technology. The Newsletter has become a vital in-house organ connecting members and keeps us informed about society activities. Our Distinguished Lecturer program has reached thousands of people worldwide. Two of our volunteers have received significant IEEE honors: Lew Terman won the Pemberton Award and Kalyan Sen was named an IEEE Fellow. These are just some of the highlights.
In 2020, our flagship ISTAS conference and the cosponsored conferences were huge successes, with record attendance, partly because going virtual allowed wider participation.
This is a legacy that Robert Dent, SSIT’s outgoing president, nurtured throughout his tenure. He achieved this by handpicking a dedicated team of volunteers and getting them organized, drawing on his vast experience in industry and as an IEEE volunteer and staff member. This meant convening weekly executive committee meetings, monthly governing board meetings, and numerous meetings on conferences, publications, and strategic planning. The calls and e-mails were incessant. This leadership team restructured the society’s finances to free up resources for a wide variety of initiatives while, at the same time, aiming for a balanced budget. It also shouldered the substantial burden of preparing the society’s five-year review.
As incoming SSIT president, I am immensely grateful for the hard work of Bob Dent and the leadership team that put us in such a strong position for the future. I will do my best to ensure that SSIT continues to improve in key areas. The key ingredient is our volunteers who edit publications, host conferences, deliver distinguished lectures, convene chapter meetings, maintain the website and social media, recruit new members, and much more. If you have not participated so far, please consider doing so—the experience is rewarding and we want you right away.
My vision for SSIT in the next couple of years focuses on the following three areas. First, we will continue to improve our organizational performance. This includes generating a successful outcome to the five-year society review process, maintaining a balanced budget, getting off the Technical Activity Board’s financial watch list, convening successful conferences and extending the pipeline of future sites, and continuing to grow the impact of our thriving publications.
Second, we will advance our unique role within IEEE among the various groups that think critically about technology. This elevates what we do well to a strategic focus. IEEE Spectrum provides timely report on emerging topics, but IEEE T&S Magazine offers thought leadership on technological transformations as they happen, and the new IEEE Transactions on T&S is quickly becoming the home for archival research at the technology–society interface. The IEEE TechEthics platform curates events and video content, and IEEE’s many technical societies and councils host conferences and publications on the implications of their particular technologies, but SSIT’s conferences cut across technological domains to generate multidisciplinary insights, transcendent moments, and novel content. We cannot claim sole “ownership” of social implications of technology within IEEE because critical thinking is truly a decentralized endeavor. Instead, we attract people by organizing great events and producing essential content. We exert leverage on the other (and often better resourced) platforms within IEEE and get them to work with us. They amplify our work and direct attention and people on us. In this sway or trip, the quality of our events and content takes the lead, and our ability to leverage the rest of IEEE follows.
Third, we will expand our reach. This includes growing the membership of SSIT, especially among younger people and those living in under-represented regions. It also includes forging alliances with like-minded groups outside of IEEE, as was done at the most recent ISTAS. Organizations focusing on public interest technology, social studies of technology, engineering ethics, and so on are more eager to work with us. We must make the collaboration easy, and yet choose these partners thoughtfully to ensure that there is a symbiotic relationship.
I am eager to hear from you about this agenda and I look forward to working with you to improve SSIT.
Clinton J. Andrews is the President of the IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology. He is a Professor and the Associate Dean for Research with the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.