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Cybersecurity and AI: A new path for regional research and futures

Charles Sturt University is set to boost cybersecurity and artificial intelligence (AI) research and unlock the potential for digital regional discovery and regional futures, as Professor Ganna Pogrebna is appointed the inaugural academic director of the Charles Sturt Cybersecurity and Data Science Institute.

Pogrebna is a pioneer in behavioural data science – a field that combines behavioural science and data science techniques to better understand, model and predict the behaviour of humans, algorithms and complex systems in the face of risk and uncertainty.

“I warmly welcome Professor Pogrebna to the University and look forward to working with her to establish the Cybersecurity and Data Science Institute,” Charles Sturt pro vice-chancellor (Research and Innovation) Professor Mark Evans said.

“Professor Pogrebna comes to the University with a wealth of experience. This includes being the Lead of the Behavioural Data Science strand at The Alan Turing Institute – the national centre for AI and data science in London ─ where she is also a Fellow working on hybrid modelling approaches between behavioural science and data science (e.g. anthropomorphic learning).”

According to Evans, Pogrebna helps leaders in businesses, charities and the public sector better understand why they make the decisions they make and how they can optimise their behaviour to achieve higher profit, better social and commercial outcomes, and bolster the wellbeing of their teams.

Pogrebna said her goal as executive director of the Cybersecurity and Data Science Institute is to avoid ‘building a silo’.

“I have spent several weeks visiting our researchers across the University’s campuses and became aware of the incredible work they are doing,” she said. “The new Institute will aim to support our local talent and build on it, seeing how we can develop new research collaborations in Australia as well as internationally.

“We will work closely with industry on new practical initiatives and promote diversity and inclusion in data science by working with our First Nations advisors as well as by increasing female and minority groups’ participation in cybersecurity and data science.”

The potential of AI for regional discovery and regional futures is not very well understood, as most AI-driven research initiatives happen in large cities.

“Charles Sturt University is uniquely placed to not only deliver ground-breaking research, but also to lead the national and international agenda in this space,” Pogrebna said. “I am also incredibly excited to build bridges with the other two Charles Sturt institutes, the Gulbali Institute of Agriculture, Water and Environment and the Rural and Regional Health Research Institute.

“We share the ambition to embed human values into the heart and operation of digital systems for a variety of applications including agriculture and health. This includes establishing methods to verify their integrity, accountability and resilience thereby ensuring that these systems, and the data which feeds them, ultimately operate in the service of successful, democratic, digitally empowered yet human-centred communities. This can only be achieved through rigorous problem-oriented research, which goes hand-in-hand with practice.”

Pogrebna studied economics at the University of Missouri Kansas City and the University of Innsbruck. She holds a PhD in Economics and Social Sciences. Her initial work was in decision theory rather than data science.

“I used to write mathematical models trying to predict human behaviour and then test these models in the laboratory,” Pogrebna said. “But I quickly understood the need for studying behaviour ‘in the wild’, outside the ‘sterile laboratory’ setting and controlled environments.

“This task is especially important when we consider interactions between humans and technology.”

She said decision support systems, suggestion systems, automation and all the technologically intense aspects of human life require accurate predictions of what people like, what people prefer, and where people need the help of automated agents and/or algorithms.

“We need to better understand how humans and algorithms can harmoniously co-exist in a system, as well as how to make these systems resilient to change,” Pogrebna said.

Pogrebna’s recent projects focus on the role of smart technological and social systems, cybersecurity, human-computer and human-data interactions, as well as human-machine teaming in organisations and how these current and future technologies impact leadership and leaders’ decision making.

Her most impactful projects concentrated on cybersecurity as a behavioural science as well as applications of behavioural data science to media industry, and her digital security risk-tolerance scale (CyberDoSpeRT) is widely used in Australia and abroad.

Pogrebna’s work on risk analytics and modelling was recognised by the Leverhulme Research Fellowship award. In 2022, Pogrebna was shortlisted for the Women in AI Australia-New Zealand award in the AI and Cybersecurity category.

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