S. Craig Watkins

Executive Director, IC² Institute, Ernest A. Sharpe Centennial Professor, Moody College of Communication

S. Craig Watkins is the Ernest A. Sharpe Centennial Professor and the Executive Director of the IC² Institute at the University of Texas at Austin.  His research focuses on the equity implications of computer-mediated technologies.  Craig is one of the Principal Investigators for UT-Austin’s Good Systems Grand Challenge, a university-funded initiative that supports multi-disciplinary explorations of the technical, social, and ethical implications of artificial intelligence.  Craig’s team explores the racial equity implications of artificial intelligence, focusing on how implicit biases, for example, in datasets, model formulation, and deployment can lead to disparate impacts, especially in high-stakes contexts such as healthcare and policing.  His collaborative research with Design and the School of Information examines how Black and Latinx children interact with AI-consumer devices like digital assistants.  Craig was also part of a multidisciplinary team of social scientists, psychologists, and computer scientists who prototyped a chatbot to support parents dealing with postpartum depression.  Craig leads a team that is adopting a data-oriented approach to understanding the social determinants of health.  This current research has led to the design of AI-based solutions to mitigate the mental healthcare crisis in the U.S.  His team has been selected to join Texas Health Catalyst, a program in the Dell Medical School and Office of Technology Commercialization at UT-Austin that translates early-stage ideas and discoveries into products that improve health.

Craig was a Visiting MLK Professor at MIT, where he continues to collaborate with faculty in the Institute for Data, Systems and Society (IDSS) to study the racial equity implications of artificial intelligence.  That work, for example, explores the impact of big data and systemic inequality in housing, the data dilemma in policing, and the future of artificial intelligence and racial justice.

As the Executive Director of the IC² Institute, Craig is leading a new initiative related to the “well-being economy.” The research considers the health and well-being of all members of society and the capacity to foster individual and community resilience in the face of unprecedented social, economic, and technological transformations.  The IC² Institute has a long history of studying the intersections between technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship. IC² is leveraging this deep expertise to: conduct an analysis of how COVID-19 is transforming the role of digital literacy programming in public libraries; produce an economic impact analysis of the Dell Medical School; collaborate with the city of Austin to develop a Prosperity Index; study the transformation of telehealth; and partner with community institutions like libraries and affordable housing developments to explore their capacity to deliver data-informed modalities of healthcare to, respectively, their patrons and residents.

Craig is an internationally recognized expert in media and technology systems and the author of six books and numerous articles and book chapters.  His research explores, among other things, how technological innovation built the hip-hop economy (Hip Hop Matters), the social and behavioral implications of young people’s engagement with computer-mediated technologies (The Young and the Digital), the shifting contours of the digital divide (The Digital Edge), and the creative ways young people adopt technology to navigate a precarious society and economy (Don’t Knock the Hustle).  This work illuminates the nuanced ways in which structural inequalities influence the design, deployment, and adoption of computer-mediated systems leading to both systemic challenges and opportunities to enhance the human experience.

Watkins’ work has been profiled in places as varied as the Washington PostThe AtlanticNewsweekTIMEESPN, and NPR, and featured at venues like SXSW, The Aspen Institute, The Boston Federal Reserve, New York Hall of Science, MIT’s Media Lab, and The New York Times Dialogue on Race.


Posted on

February 13, 2023