skip to primary navigationskip to content

Department of Computer Science and Technology



Course pages 2023–24

Theories of Socio-digital Design for Human Centred AI

Principal lecturer: Prof Alan Blackwell
Additional lecturer: Dr Tomasz Hollanek
Taken by: MPhil ACS, Part III
Code: R225
Term: Lent
Hours: 16
Format: In-person lectures
Class limit: max. 10 students
Prerequisites: This course is appropriate to any ACS student, and will assist in the development of critical thinking, argument and long-form writing skills. Prior experience of essay-based humanities subjects at university or secondary school will be beneficial, but not required.
Moodle, timetable


This module is a theoretically-oriented advanced introduction to the broad field of human-computer interaction, extending to consider topics such as intelligent user interfaces, critical and speculative design, participatory design, cognitive models of users, human-centred, as well as more-than-human-centred design, and others. The course will not address purely engineering approaches to the development of user interfaces (unless there is a clear theoretical question being addressed), but allow students to effectively link the political, social, and ethical considerations in HCI to specific technical and conceptual design challenges. The module builds on the Practical Research in Human-Centred AI course offered in Michaelmas (developed with researchers at Microsoft Research Cambridge) and a collaboration with the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence at Cambridge. Participants may include visitors from these groups and/or interdisciplinary research students and academic guests from other University departments, including Cambridge Digital Humanities.


The syllabus will remain broadly within the area of human-computer interaction, including theories of design practice and the social contexts of technology use. Individual seminar topics will be selected in response to contemporary and recent research developments, in consultation with members of the class and visiting contributors.


Representative topics in the next year are likely to include:

  • Evaluation methods for interactive systems.
  • Policy and regulation related to AI-based systems (including the EU AI Act), and how to approach it in the design process.
  • Critique and applications of human-centred/ethical/responsible AI design toolkits.
  • Socio-political perspectives on software design and user research
  • Aesthetics and emotion in design.
  • Cognitive or sociological accounts of user behaviour.
  • Critical analysis of user interfaces and implications for UI/UX design for AI-based systems.


On completion of this module, students should have developed facility in discussing and critiquing the aims of their research, especially for an audience drawn from other academic disciplines, including the following skills:

  • Theoretical motivation and defence of a research question.
  • Consideration of a research proposal from one or more alternative theoretical perspectives.
  • Potential critique of the theoretical basis for a programme of research.


In advance of each seminar, all participants must read in advance a current (or occasionally "classic") paper presenting theoretical perspectives on the design of interactive and socio-digital systems.

At the start of the seminar, one or two group members will present a brief critical introduction to the paper, after which the remainder of the session consists of open discussion.

Each member of the class must submit a written critical review discussing the paper presented at one of the seminars - this will usually be the session at which they have contributed the opening introduction.

Throughout the course, students will be expected to keep a "reflective diary", recording the theoretical focus of each seminar, a summary of the themes that arise in discussion, and ways in which the discussion relates to their own research interests, possibly including theoretical perspectives that they have encountered in other modules.

Practical work

There is no practical work element in this course.


  • Written critical review of a single discussion text (20%)
  • Reflective diary submitted at the end of the module (60%)
  • In advance of the session, each student will submit a written commentary on the paper, either generated using a large language model (LLM), or written in the style of an LLM. A short original observation should be added (20%)

Recommended reading

To be assigned during the module, as discussed above. Most set readings will be available either from the ACM Digital Library, or from institutional repositories of the authors.