The European Union funds a unique concept to develop technological
tools for clinical practitioners and education professionals, as
LanPercept’s Pirita Pyykkönen-Klauck explains
Pan European Networks: Science & Technology
anPercept, a new training network funded by the European
Union, uniquely bridges basic and clinical research in order
to develop new technical tools and training software to
help disabled and elderly people with difficulties in mapping
visual information and language. The network has been awarded
€4.15m from the Marie Curie Initial Training Network scheme to
train 15 new professionals for academic and industrial needs.
Professor Mila Vulchanova from the Norwegian University of
Science and Technology (NTNU) has worked for years to build up
a network of professionals that can help to create scientifically
motivated technological tools for clinical practitioners and
education professionals. Now she leads the LanPercept network.
Increasing technological needs in the humanities
Vulchanova’s background is in the humanities. She is a professor
of English and linguistics and the director of the Language
Acquisition and Language Processing Laboratory at NTNU.
She observes that the humanities are moving in the direction of
more technology-oriented research: “The times of the so called
‘armchair researcher’ are long gone and we are increasingly
becoming aware of the need for empirically-based experimental
research in how humans acquire and process language, which,
needless to say, requires collaboration with fields, such as
psychology and neuroscience.”
While the need for technical facilities is well-understood and funded
in nearby fields, such as neuroscience, experimentalists in
linguistics have long suffered from the lack of infrastructure funding
to build-up well-equipped laboratories for experimental research.
Even though some funding schemes have been initiated for this
purpose, many European countries still lack dedicated structured
funding to advance experimental research in the humanities.
Vulchanova has pioneered in building a modern humanistic
laboratory in Norway. She points out that collaboration across
fields has been crucial to show the importance of experimental
approaches: “Our research over the past decade has been
marked by increased international collaboration with teams in
other European and Nordic countries which has led to important
scientific breakthroughs (for instance, research in the cognitive
mechanisms underlying language talent in autistic individuals).
“These results would not have been possible without these
collaborations and without the excellent opportunity to conduct
experimental research with good laboratory facilities. This research
has been the main factor leading to success in building up the
current LanPercept network.”
Produce results
This kind of collaboration is also a key to the current challenges
scientists are facing in the humanities and social sciences.
Universities and research institutes are pushed to produce
results that can be quickly turned into recognisable results and
products. Even though such fast deliverables are not always
obvious for researchers carrying out basic research, scientists are
nowadays forced to specify potential patents and products for
industrial markets when applying for research funding. For
networks like LanPercept, which involves professionals from
linguistics, psychology and neuroscience, such requirements are
possible to accommodate.
New technological markets and
society are setting hard
requirements for young academics.
It is not enough that postgraduates
in the humanities and social
sciences are well-equipped with
scientific thinking, problem solving
skills, skills in team work and
knowledge of their target fields.
However, creating a concept that is able to produce products and
patents without sacrificing basic research is not easy. Firstly, the
LanPercept team led by Vulchanova has noticed that language
and perception research are typically studied in isolation. So, the
initial step was to bring these two traditions into direct discussion
and collaboration, in order to develop the needed theoretical
basis to understand human language-vision mapping. The second
step was to identify the aspects needed in order to advance our
understanding of atypical mappings of language and vision. After
these steps, it was obvious that new diagnostic tools and training
software were needed in order to help clinical practitioners and
education professionals.
The last step to finalise the concept of LanPercept was to identify
how the clinical research and technological advancements would
further benefit basic research. A close collaboration with other
scientists and collaborators from the associated industries helped
to identify these benefits.
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