We’re delighted to introduce the 15 Early Career Researchers who have been selected to present their cutting edge research at the AHRC Science in Culture Theme Ignite event on 26th March 2014. The event will be held at the Natural History Museum and limited tickets are still available.

The eleventh Science in Culture Theme Ignite Speaker is:

RICHARD GRAHAM, University of Exeter, ‘Questions to Queries: How Google is Changing the Nature of Access, Thought and Knowledge’

Richard GrahamIn the spirit of Ignite can you describe your topic in 140 characters?

Search engines are increasingly becoming central to our lives. How will relying on Google change what we know, how we think and who we are?

What would you like people to take away from your Ignite talk?

Questions and a questioning attitude! We use Google for so much in our daily lives, not just finding web pages but orienting ourselves in the world. Google helps us remember, to learn new things and discover new ideas. We use Google to answer questions ranging from “what was the name of that film?” to “why is the Higgs boson important?” and “what’s going on in Syria?” The results for all these answers are provided to us on a basis of relevance, assessed around our previous searches, where we are in the world and the decisions of other users. Should relevance mean the same thing when searching for information on movie titles, physics and Syria? And is it ok that these search results will be different in other countries or to people with different interests or political persuasions?

Larry Page, one of Google’s co-founders, in a 2004 interview with Business Week said, “The ultimate search engine would basically understand everything in the world, and it would always give you the right thing.”

Making Google better isn’t just a technological problem but a deeply cultural one too. What would it mean for a computer to “understand everything in the world” and what would giving us the “right thing” mean?

How did you get involved in interdisciplinary research across Sciences and Arts and Humanities?

I’ve always been excited by interdisciplinarity, it’s all about questions no one can answer on their own. Both of my PhD supervisors are deeply interdisciplinary and have an attitude of “go where your question takes you”. I’m really interested in how culture and technology shape one another. Whether you’re asking questions about the printing press or twitter, if you come at it from only one perspective you’re only going to get part of the answer.

Tell us a bit about your academic background.

I’m currently in the first year of my PhD in the English department at the University of Exeter. I completed my BA and MA both in English in 2012 and 2013 respectively, both at Exeter, so I’ve been down in the West Country a while now. My path to my current research developed through my interest in literary theory and later critical theory, both of which foreground the need for interdisciplinarity. My MA was in English with a specialist pathway in criticism and theory, the thesis of which investigated the spatial aspects of the Dewey decimal classification system and the future of physical libraries more generally.

If you want to say hi, you can reach me via Twitter: @richardnvgraham and you can find my PhD research blog at: http://richardnvgraham.blogspot.co.uk/

A film of Richard Graham’s presentation at the AHRC Science in Culture Theme Ignite event is available here.