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Tetherless World Constellation Colloquium

Interaction Design Paradigm Shift: Will Data Deliver the AI Vision of a Digital Assistant?

Dr. MC Schraefel
Royal Academy of Engineering, UK.

November 14, 2008
4th floor conference room, Winslow Bldg, 1:30 p.m.


The idealized versions of interacting with computers have been imagined as digital assistants - whether Stephenson's Librarian in Snow Crash, Star Trek:TNG's Computer or Apple's late 80's concept of the Knowledge Navigator - these interfaces mediate their interlocutor's questions, or manage their user's information needs from scheduling appointments to tracking their favorite sports teams. Early work in bringing these kinds of experiences to computer interaction relied heavily on machine learning techniques. All that was seen as failed in this approach was embodied in Microsoft's Clippy, and the famous "it seems you are writing a suicide note. Would you like help with that?" With the increasing use of web-based tools for creating a range of sharable information, from calendars to music preferences to location, we have increasing amounts of structured information that early machine learning based approaches to support did not have. The difference here, we hypothesize, is that with this increasing amount of structured, explicit information, a system can simply *know* more, and with that information, can potentially help provide more effective, automatic support for us in our daily interactions. In other words, with this wealth of context-supporting information in the ether, we can begin to think (perhaps again) about alternative paradigms to the desktop for computer interaction. If this interaction is more personal assistant than current manual application interaction, what are our expectations, and how might these influence design of these systems? Can new approaches to what is possible to automate, how, help enhance our quality of life? In this talk, i'll provide some context of my work in this space, and review a few ongoing projects where, in collaboration between MIT and Southampton, a group of us have been looking at how structured information might get us closer to a Perfect Digital Assistant (PDA's). At this stage, there are more questions here with regard to designing to support quality of life than answers. I'll close with some thoughts on Organic Objects to work with these PDA's.


mc schraefel is a Senior Research Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in the UK and a Senior Lecturer in Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton where she leads the Interaction Theme in the Intelligence, Agents and Multimedia Group. This past year she has returned from sabbatical at the University of Maryland and MIT as the first Web Science Research Initiative Fellow working with Ben Shneiderman, Tim Berners-Lee, Danny Weitzner, David Karger and Jim Hendler to explore how/where user interaction research and semantic web technology research may blend to support new models for exploring web-scale information, metadata and provenance/policy information around that data. As part of her interest in Quality of Life design, she has been exploring how to design technology encourage 20 something grad student desk bound geeks to think about health and fitness. Towards this end, schraefel also holds a range of strength and conditioning certifications. Webpage: http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~mc

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Last updated: Nov. 11, 2008