The Institute for the Future of Knowledge

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Institute for the Future of Knowledge

The Institute for the Future of Knowledge (IFK) is a cross-disciplinary ecosystem at the University of Johannesburg, devoted to understanding the relationship between what we know and what will happen, for the purpose of improving both. The future is an ancient concern. Recent advances in computational abilities promise improved predictive performance, yet global events have proven to be resiliently unpredictable. The University of Johannesburg established the IFK to further its championing of a future-oriented focus for South Africa and the wider region.

Research Groups

The IFK conceptualizes its activities around the following research groups.

Data Science Across Disciplines (DSAD)

Director: Professor Charis Harley (Engineering)

Data Science Across Disciplines takes an interdisciplinary approach to both the application of data science and the sense-making theoretical frameworks that shape its development. DSAD supports the educational and intellectual growth of the field of data science by developing specialist educational programmes at the postgraduate level, to support student skills development and upskill current professionals. The DSAD's cutting edge research is allied with close industry collaboration.

The Future of Health (FoH)

Director: Professor Benjamin Smart (Philosophy)

The Future of Health Research Group takes an interdisciplinary approach to understanding humanity's efforts to improve health and deal with sickness, in the conviction that gaining perspective will improve future medical and public health efforts. The group's broad mandate includes philosophical, sociological, anthropological, and other disciplinary approaches, and covers clinical medicine, public health, epidemiology, biomedical research, and other health knowledges.

The Future of Diplomacy (FoD)

Director: Dr Oluwaseun Tella (Politics and International Relations)

The Future of Diplomacy research group seeks to promote the understanding of diplomacy, negotiation and statecraft in contemporary international politics. The group aims to support research in modern diplomatic practice by redefining diplomacy in contemporary and futuristic contexts in an increasingly complex and globalised world.   

Green Futures (GF)

Director: Professor Brett Bennett (History)

Green Futures seeks to positively understand, appreciate and harness earth's plant life and the socio-ecosystems they interact with for the betterment of humanity and nature. Green Futures draws on a range of disciplines, not limited to science, and has a strong grounding in culture, history, and policy.

Metaphysics and Machines (MnM)

Director: Professor Alex Broadbent (Philosophy)

Artificial intelligence is altering how we understand the world. The Metaphysics and Machines Research Group explores the implications, including how the approach of developing machine learning solutions changes or deviates from traditional scientific methodologies, whether such new approaches can help develop new or alternative conceptual frameworks, whether machine learning can improve our grasp of complexity, and what we can learn about the relationship between prediction, explanation and causation.



Alex Broadbent PhD is founding Director of the Institute for the Future of Knowledge, Professor of Philosophy, and Associate Member of the African Centre for Epistemology and Philosophy of Science at the University of Johannesburg. His research is in the philosophy of epidemiology, medicine, and causation, and he is Editor in Chief of the journal Philosophy of Medicine. Outside university life, he engages in consultancy, advocacy and policy work related to public health and uses of science in legal contexts, and writes opinion pieces on topics such as the fourth industrial revolution and public health issues. He is an Associate Member of the Centre for Humanities Engaging Science and Society at Durham University and of Millennium Chambers, The Barrister Network, London.


Charis Harley PhD is Director of the Data Science Across Disciplines Research Group and Professor in the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment at UJ. She is an accomplished researcher in the field of computational mathematics with over 30 articles, experience at a range of elite universities, and multiple research grants. She also has experience in industry as an analyst and quantitative analyst, with practise in data analysis ranging from the use of filters; Auto-Correlation; Principal Component Analysis; Exploratory Data Analysis, to the use of more advanced methods of data analytics.

Oluwaseun Tella PhD is Director of the Future of Diplomacy Research Group at the IFK. He is a specialist on soft power, diplomacy, and migration. He has published over 25 articles and his forthcoming monograph, which will be published by Routledge, is titled Africa's Soft Power: Philosophies, Political Values, Foreign Policies and Cultural Exports. He has also edited three books entitled Nigeria-South Africa Relations and Regional Hegemonic Competence (Springer, 2019), From Ivory Towers to Ebony Towers: Transforming Humanities Curricula in South Africa, Africa and African-American Studies (Jacana, 2020), and A Sleeping Giant? Nigeria's Domestic and International Politics in the Twenty-First Century (Springer, 2021).

Brett Bennett PhD is Director of the Green Futures Research Group and Associate Professor of History at the University of Johannesburg and University of Western Sydney. His research uses historical methods to investigate how the interaction of human actions and natural processes created contemporary ecosystems, scientific ideas, and conservation policies. He is the author of Plantations and protected areas: a global history of forest management (MIT Press, 2015), co-author with Frederick J. Kruger of Forestry and water conservation in South Africa: history, science, policy ( ANU Press, 2015), and co-author with Gregory Barton on the book Saving the world the first time: ideas of climate change before global warming, under contract with Reaktion Press. He works with historians, geographers, ecologists, heritage experts and local communities to explore the legacy and meanings of human-plant, human-animal, and human-climate relations.

Benjamin Smart PhD is Director of the Future of Health Research Group, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Associate Member of the African Centre for Epistemology and Philosophy of Science. He is Y1 rated by the NRF. Smart's research focuses on the philosophy of medicine, epidemiology and public health, and on the metaphysics of laws and causation. He published a monograph entitled Concepts and Causes in the Philosophy of Disease in 2016, and has numerous papers in highly ranked international philosophy journals. Dr Smart believes that philosophical work in medicine can have a direct impact on society, and so also collaborates with academics in the medical sciences to address real world problems in public health.

Anthony Kaziboni MA is Director of Research at the Institute for the Future of Knowledge (IFK). His works is in hydropolitics, migration, social inequalities, and social policy. He is the Regional Representative for South Africa for the International Sociological Association's (ISA) Clinical Sociology Research Group. In 2018 he received the prestigious Outstanding Early Career Award in Clinical Sociology by the ISA's Clinical Sociology Research Committee in Toronto, Canada. He has [co]authored publications in accredited journals, newspaper articles and book chapters.

Visiting Professors

Nancy Cartwright is a Professor of Philosophy at Durham University and a Distinguished Professor at the University of California, both in the United States (US). At Durham, she is also co-Director of the Centre for Humanities engaging Science and Society. Her research interests include philosophy and the history of science (especially physics and economics). Professor Cartwright has worked extensively in modelling, causal inference, causal powers, and objectivity, evidence, especially for evidence-based policy (EBP) and the philosophy of social technology. For the project 'Knowledge for Use' (K4U), her current work investigates how to use scientific research results for better policies. She has worked with others on projects in education, child protection and international development.

Research Associates

Adrian Erasmus is a PhD candidate in the History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom (UK). Before starting his doctorate, he held teaching positions at the University of Johannesburg and the University of Pretoria, both in South Africa. His research employs conceptual analysis, empirical findings, case studies, and the application of formal methods to solve important practical problems in science. His research interests are conceptual and methodological questions about medical inference and the intersection of values and epistemic concerns in medical artificial intelligence.

Jonathan Fuller is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science (HPS) at the University of Pittsburgh, in the US, specialising in the philosophy of medicine. He is also Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the journal Philosophy of Medicine and Secretary of the International Philosophy of Medicine Roundtable Scientific Committee. He was a post-doctoral research fellow in the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto, Canada.

Ross Harvey is a Director of Research and Programmes at Good Governance Africa (GGA). He holds a PhD in economics from the University of Cape Town. From 2010 to 2011, Ross lectured political economy at UCT. The following year he worked as a parliamentary researcher. In mid-2013, he became a senior researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs, where he worked until 2019, joining GGA in 2020.

Nancy Jecker is a Professor of Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Washington School of Medicine, in the US. She holds Adjunct Professorships at the University of Washington School of Law, Department of Global Health, and Department of Philosophy. Professor Jecker's research focuses on individual and societal ageing, justice, human dignity, medical futility and global perspectives in philosophy and bioethics. She was elected to the Board of Directors for the International Association of Bioethics (2019-2022) and to the Board of Directors for the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities (2016-2019).

Rebecca Kukla is a Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University and Senior Research Scholar at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics, in the US. They are Editor-in-Chief of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, and a faculty member in the Disability Studies Program at Georgetown. For 2020 and 2021, they are also a Humboldt Research Scholar at Leibniz University Hannover. Dr. Kukla's research interests within practical ethics include the ethical and social complexities of scientific knowledge production and communication, reproductive ethics and the culture of pregnancy and motherhood, public health ethics, the ethics of health communication, research ethics, methodological issues in medical research, and the social epistemology of medicine. Much of their research bridges bioethics, epistemology, and philosophy of language. They have ongoing interests in the varieties of embodiment, agency, and autonomy.

Mathew Mercuri holds a PhD in Health Research Methods at McMaster University and a PhD in History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto, both in Canada. He completed a post-doctoral fellowship in the Department of Medicine at Columbia University, in the US. Dr. Mercuri is currently an Assistant Professor in the Division of Emergency Medicine, McMaster University, and the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation, at the University of Toronto. He was named Editor-in-Chief for the Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice in 2018. His research interests are medical epistemology, medical practice variations, and issues around radiation exposure from diagnostic imaging.

Neil Pearce is Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, and Director of the Centre for Global Non-communicable Disease, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, in the UK. During 2000-2010 he was Director of the Centre for Public Health Research in the Research School of Public Health on the Massey University Wellington Campus. He continues to work in a broad range of epidemiological NCD research areas, including epidemiological methods, respiratory disease, neurological disease, cancer, diabetes, indigenous health, and occupational and environmental health research.

Jacob Stegenga is a Reader in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge, in the UK. Before joining Cambridge, he taught in the US and Canada, and he received his PhD from the University of California, San Diego. His research interests are in evidence and inference, and much of his work focuses on biology and medicine. His research employs conceptual analysis, empirical findings, and formal methods to establish prescriptive conclusions about science.

Jan Vandenbroucke is a Belgian epidemiologist and physician known for his work in clinical epidemiology. He was a Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at Leiden University Medical Centre, the Netherlands (1986-2015). He has been mainly involved in observational studies; his main interest is the application of epidemiologic methods to problems of aetiology and pathogenesis that are investigated in academic medical centres. In 2002-2003 he held a sabbatical at Oxford University, UK. He was appointed as an Academy Professor by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (2006-2015) and a Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at Aarhus University, Denmark, in 2014. He serves on the international advisory board of The Lancet, and was a co-author of the Strengthening the Reporting of Observational Studies in Epidemiology (STROBE) guidelines. He was appointed as an Honorary Professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) in 2015.

Sridhar Venkatapuram is a Senior Lecturer in Global Health and Philosophy at the King's College Global Health Institute, United Kingdom (UK). He is an interdisciplinary academic practitioner in the area of Global Health Ethics. He was previously a Lecturer and Wellcome Trust Research Fellow in Ethics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), UK, and an affiliated Lecturer at Cambridge University, UK. From 2008 to 2011, he was Co-Investigator on an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and UK's Department for International Development (DFID) research project.

Michael Vlerick is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at Tilburg University, in the Netherlands. He was a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Johannesburg. His post-doctoral research dealt with the philosophical implications of the theory of evolution. His research focuses on evolutionary epistemology, evolutionary morality, cultural evolution and social ontology in particular, and the philosophical implications of evolution theory in general.