Google has donated a $50,000 gift to a collaborative research project involving John Zimmerman, an assistant professor in the School of Design and the Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII), and Anthony Tomasic of the Institute for Software research International (ISRI).
John and Anthony have been working with the Reflective Agents with Distributed Adaptive Reasoning (RADAR) group developing a Virtual Information Officer (VIO). A VIO is an intelligent agent in a computer that will help people become more productive. Essentially, it takes instructions from humans and automates them over time using machine learning.
Left: John Zimmerman, Assistant Professor, School of Design, and Assistant Professor, Human-Computer Interaction Institute; Right: Anthony Tomasic, Senior System Scientist, Institute for Software research International
The use of a system that can do this properly is widely applicable. Most people have been in situations where they’ve needed to complete menial tasks. Whether it’s updating a website, adding events to a calendar or repetitive editing, it’s never fun. With all the advancements in today’s technology, we may often wonder why we still spend time on tasks that could be automated.
The example they are currently working on is that of a webmaster. Webmasters often receive emails from people with tasks such as “Update Steve’s phone number to 555-1234.” With Zimmerman and Tomasic’s research, the VIO agent will automatically open up a mini-form that has the updates entered and will wait for the webmaster to confirm them. In this way, the webmaster still has some control over what is happening and can catch mistakes the computer makes. The goal is to free people from repetitive tasks and allow them to do more creative work.
Finding this balance between human interaction and control by the computer is part of what is called mixed initiative. It is a classic issue that Zimmerman is working on as an Interaction Designer on this project. The collaboration between Interaction Design and Artificial Intelligence is something that he believes is key in developing successful agents.
Posted on Feb 7, 2007