Building Theories: People's Interaction with Computers

Mira Dontcheva   Justine Cassell, Northwestern University

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University October 31, 2008

How do we build an HCI that contributes equally to social theory and engineering practice?  On the one hand, how do we maximize the benefits that theory can bring to actual artifacts that improve health, well-being, learning, and self-efficacy?  On the other hand, how do we maximize the use of technological artifacts in pushing the boundaries of social theory?  In sum, how do we understand human behavior with, through, and in response to new technologies, and how do we design new technologies shaped by this understanding?
In this talk, I use my recent research to illustrate dimensions of these questions.   By referencing a range of work that depends intrinsically on both social theory and engineering practice, I point to ways that HCI can contribute to both.  Specifically, I'll draw from work exploring the nature of rapport between people as well as between people and computers, investigating civic engagement and leadership among young people online, delving into the neuroscientific evidence for how we interact with virtual humans, and translating this knowledge into tools to scaffold learning and help young people with developmental disorders.  As these topics suggest, my own work reflects my perspective on the power and promise of HCI research to make significant contributions to social theory and to engineering practice, and the power and promise of a partnership between social theory and engineering practice to build a stronger HCI for tomorrow.


Justine Cassell holds the AT&T Research Chair and is a full professor in the departments of Communication Studies and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Northwestern University, with courtesy appointments in Linguistics and Learning Science.  She is also the director of the Northwestern Center for Technology and Social Behavior.  Before coming to Northwestern, Cassell was a tenured professor at the MIT Media Lab where she directed the Gesture and Narrative Language Research Group.  In 2001, Cassell was awarded the Edgerton Faculty Award at MIT; in 2008 she was awarded the Anita Borg Institute Women of Vision Leadership Award.  

Cassell's research builds on her multidisciplinary background: she holds undergraduate degrees in Comparative Literature from Dartmouth and in Lettres Modernes from the Universite de Besançon (France). She holds a M.Phil in Linguistics from the University of Edinburgh (Scotland) and a double Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in Linguistics and Psychology.  After having spent ten years studying verbal and non-verbal aspects of human communication through microanalysis of videotaped data she began to bring her knowledge of human conversation to the design of computational systems.  Cassell's research concentrates on better understanding everyday kinds of conversation and social interaction as practiced by children and adults, and on building computational systems that simulate, mediate, and facilitate those everyday kinds of activities.  These technologies, such as Embodied Conversational Agents, Story Listening Systems, and Online Communities, in turn allow her to study the nature of human interaction with and through technology.

View this talk on line at CS547 on Stanford OnLine or using this video link.

Titles and abstracts for previous years are available by year and by speaker.