Dr Fiona Kerr

Dr Fiona Kerr
 Position Neural and Systems Complexity Specialist
 Org Unit Professions Office
 Email fiona.kerr@adelaide.edu.au
 Telephone +61 8 8313 9260
 Mobile +61 4 3889 6717
 Location Floor/Room 10 31 ,  Nexus 10 Tower ,   North Terrace
  • Biography/ Background

    Dr Fiona Kerr is the Neural and Systems Complexity Specialist at the University of Adelaide. She is based in the Faculty of the Professions and combines her research areas of cognitive neuroscience and systems engineering to study the neurophysiological impact of human interaction with both humans and technologies, and the use of artificial intelligence; how leaders build better brains and businesses; strategic intuition; and collaboration around wicked problems. She collaborates with the Faculty of Health Sciences, where she examines the neurophysiological impact of human interaction on healing and the therapeutic relationship; and with the Faculty of Engineering, studying the interaction between humans and trusted autonomous systems.

    Outside her research roles with the University, Fiona has 35 years of business experience in a number of sectors and has held positions at all organisational and board levels. She consults to companies, industry sectors and governments in Europe and the USA and in late 2018 founded The NeuroTech Institute in order to explore the neurophysiological interaction of humans, and with and through technology in a flexible, multidisciplinary manner (see www.theneurotechinstitute.com). Her current research projects include interaction with robots and humans in both aged and health care settings and with autonomous systems for defence, and she is an advisor to a range of entities including a robotics company, technology companies, a US boutique teaming organisation, a 'tech led cultural consultancy' ,an art performance company and two government AI bodies. 

    Fiona speaks publically on her research, and works with media organisations including the ABC as a science communicator.

    For a comprehensive picture of Fiona's career and the NeuroTech Institute please go to www.fiona-kerr.com

  • Research Interests

    While Fiona's research interests are eclectic, they all share the common theme of developing a deeper understanding of human interaction, from the ways in which human-to-human interaction positively impacts collaboration, complex decision making, trust, belonging, even health and immune system efficiency; through to the benefits and opportunities offered by technological advancement, and how human-technology partnerships can be developed in ways which utilise both the human and the technology to maximise the advantages brought to any given situation.

    The neurophysiological impact of human interaction with each other, and with and through technology

    Fiona researches the neurophysiological effects of direct human-to-human interaction, interaction between and technologies, and technological intermediation on human interaction. She partnered with health sciences to write a research scoping review on "The Neurophysiological Effect of Touch and Eye Gaze on Healing ", examining the scientific case for the positive therapeutic impacts of direct interaction between humans. Combining this with work on the potential differences in impact of interaction intermediated by technology, Fiona regularly presents at medical/technical conferences on topics such as "The Rise of the Robot Nurse - Are Humans the Innovation Disruption We Seek?", speaking on both the amazing opportunities offered by technology and the advantageous neurophysiological and immunological impacts which occur when interacting through touch or direct gaze with another human as opposed to technical or chemical interaction. during 2019 Fiona will research the impact of a small robot in both aged and health care settings. 

    In the area of defence, Fiona has collaborated with the Faculty of Engineering and DST Group to study a range of areas including trusted autonomous systems and moral weaponry; is part of the working group designing a national PhD program, and has now begun working on a US military project looking at the cognitive neuroscience of interacting with trusted autonomous systems in settings requiring complex problem solving. 


    Fiona sees the brain as a work in progress, and has spent a number of years researching the capacity of the brain to undergo neurogenesis (the building of new brain), under the right conditions, at any age. There are a number of activities which may promote neurogenesis and assist in the construction and maintenance of complex mental schemata, including positive face-to-face interaction with others, exercise, engaging with novelty (learning new things), diet (the microbiome) and sleep. Fiona wrote and presented Neurogenesis: a force for creativity? on ABC Radio National's Ockham's Razor with Robyn Williams (short written summary: Neurogenesis, leadership and rewiring your own brain) and regularly speaks on various aspects of shaping our brains and the brain of others. 

    The brains of leaders

    Another area of interest which was part of Fiona's doctoral thesis is the cognitive differences in different styles of leaders. In particular her research examined the difference in the brain of the emergent logic leader: one who builds adaptive organisations and creates a flourishing environment; and how this contrasts with linear, autocratic leaders in terms of their mental frameworks, the organisations they build and their behaviour within them. 
    Fiona's thesis, based on over 25 years of experience in industry, can be found here: Creating and leading adaptive organisations: the nature and practice of emergent logic. Subsequent to this Fiona continues to explore how leaders can alter the cognition of those they lead.

  • Professional Interests

    Science Communicator

    In order to make the work more accessible and useful to organization's and non-academic audiences, Fiona has become a scientific communicator and is now an international speaker, with topics including:

    • The neurophysiological impact of direct human interaction and interconnection;
    • The effect of technological intermediation on human interaction;
    • Partnerships between humans and AI for a human-centric future;
    • The neuroscience of leadership and the fact that great leaders can grow people's brains;
    • The power of values, collaboration, creativity and the ideation process; and
    • Diverse topics including the neuroscience of space, learning, engagement and how different artistic hobbies change the brain as we age.

    In addition to her public speaking, Fiona has written about and discussed her areas of research for a number of media organisations, including the ABC (Radio National and Radio Adelaide), SBS, The Conversation, and The Advertiser. The the "LOOK UP" movement she created in early 2019 with Lekki Maze from Glider and the OMA includes a paper called "The Art and Science of Looking Up" and is aimed at people understanding how amazing the human brain is and how human interaction can change our brains, bodies, worldview, problem solving, communities and even nations (available at lookup.org.au). A list of Fiona's work in the area of science communication, including a number of her public lectures and articles, can be found at http://fiona-kerr.com/media/.


    Fiona works with ministerial and government bodies both in Australia and overseas, utilising her expertise in complex systems to advise on shaping creative bureaucracies, long-lens policy design, the neuroscience of engagement and democracy reform. All of these combine the areas of systems and neural complexity, which are profoundly intertwined in the majority of complex, long term societal issues and challenges. She has advised Finland's ministerial AI steering committee, Pennsylvania policy-makers and economic advisers on the social / economic aspects of AI design and use, ministers in Indonesia, Singapore, France and South Australia on building Innovative ecosystems, tech use and smart cities.  

  • Community Engagement

    Fiona works with not-for-profit organisations in the sectors of ageing, health, art performance and business growth to assist in operational success as well as shaping strategy to deal with complex social issues. She is vice-chair of the Catalyst Foundation (http://www.catalystfoundation.com.au/), one of South Australia's leading independent not-for-profits in the areas of ageing and disability. She is also on the board of Brand South Australia to leverage the wonderful 'brains trust' SA has in its residents, and has worked with SA think-tanks on ageing, innovation, creativity and wellbeing.  

    Fiona has spoken on areas which build capacity and improve social capital, including:

    • Clinical practice and decision-making, and practices in palliative care
    • recalibrating big tech's moral compass
    • The neuroscience of human interconnection
    • Creating a connected society enabled by technology
    • E-Health - the impact of technology on healthcare delivery
    • what ageing well looks like 
    • Diet and the microbiome
    • the role of technology in education and creative performance


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Entry last updated: Sunday, 3 Feb 2019

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