My particular focus is on interactive technologies for communication. I have been concerned mainly with designs that have an impact on mutual recognition, especially in situations where emotions matter. When people have fallen out with one another and are angry or anxious. When people love one another but must live apart and hence work to maintain their relationship through communication technologies. When 'reading between the lines' really matters. More recently, my research has turned to problems in human-robot interaction, by considering the potential value of endowing robots with affective states, and the challenge of modelling and representating emotion in interactive virtual agents. I envisage the potential of these artificial agents both as artificially intelligent collaborators and as proxies for people who cannot be together physically.
Interactive communication technologies are most familiar to people in the guise of email, online forums and social media. These technologies clearly have a big impact on every day life. What is perhaps less obvious is that the way they are designed can play a crucial role in determining how we think and feel about one another. They do this by altering our ability to pay attention to what someone has said to us, and our feelings of confidence that we are being listened to and understood.
I research how interactions with such systems are constructed, to inform the design of new systems. Mediating technologies should assist us in expressing ourselves and, by the same token, help those we address to say whether they have understood. Whilst some technologies appear to be beneficial, others seem more prone to trip us up. Think about the difference between receiving written instructions by email compared to being told what to do on the phone. Through the representations and transformations of information their designers have defined, these systems change what we are able to do and how we are able to do it. They mediate our understanding of one another, our sense of belonging, capacity for reaching agreement, toleration of dispute, demonstration and recognition of concern, and mutual comprehension.
A scientific approach to the invention and study of interactive communication technologies can show how they cause problems and offer benefits for people in all of these ways. Knowledge of this kind has implications for personal relationships, business efficiency and democratic participation in the functioning of society. This work also has significance for the world of Robotics and Autonomous Systems. That is, to considerations of how human and artificial agents might work together as partners in joint activities.
I am also concerned with the science base for research on people and ICTs. That means I conduct projects with a methodological focus (finding new ways to find out new things). I am equally interested in methods whether they are quantitative (using numbers to describe and compare) or qualitative (using other observational data, especially linguistic information).
I was appointed as the first Research Ethics Officer for the
Department of Computer Science at Bath in 2006. I devised
guidance on ethical research practice for my colleagues and students at all levels of study.
I put together a self-checking scheme to help identify and manage ethical issues that may arise in CS research that involves public participation. If you are a current member of the Department of Computer Science at the University of Bath who is preparing a proposal for funded research, you can find information about what you should do on the Departmental Intranet.
The connection between my research and teaching is in understanding how to define and reason about systems which are made up of human and software components. Besides the 'headline work' of a particular human activity, for example defining a new taxation policy, people also have to do a lot of 'cooperation work' just to be able to understand, cooperate and integrate their separate viewpoints. Software can be designed to aid in both the headline and cooperation parts of the work of any group wants to do. In that way, the quality and nature of 'the group' changes from being purely about human action to being about an integrated human-computer action. It depends on combinations of human intelligence ('nondeterministic wetware') and computational intelligence ('deterministic software'), working as a unified sociotechnical system.
Converstations always take place for a reason. Sometimes we engage in them for several reasons and sometimes the original reason is lost, or rather superceded, as our conversations take new twists and turns. My research considers how groups of people collaborate with one another, the way they articulate their understanding and concerns to one another, especially their 'stories', and depends upon knowledge of the spaces they inhabit and how they maintain their identities.
It is hard to work within an environment that relies on email conversations and still stay in touch with the broader context of which they are a part. To work through email is in some sense to be act in a world that is detatched. Famously, an internal email memo, no doubt sent in haste and without reflection, read: It's a good day to bury bad news.
This message was sent at a time when, outside of the rarefied atmosphere of that organisation, and the ultra-rarefied atmosphere of email-in-haste, was absorbed in the horror of the 'bad news' itself.
So what is this 'tone'? It is the emotional force of the message as it is read. How often have you thought, when you have received an email: How Rude!. Or had an overly terse reply to an email that you have sent, that makes you ask yourself: Was I so very rude in what or how I wrote to them? There seems to be more scope in text-based communication for emotionally significant misunderstanding than when we speak on the phone or meet for real. It's hard to manage, on occasion, the yawning spaces between words. These occasions are nearly always when we have to deal with contentious matters. People do this by searching among a set of possible interpretations (or simply jumping for the first meaning that comes to mind). One way of thinking about this is that every message tells a story and the interpretations we are able to place on messages therefore depends upon the number of narratives we are able to use to make sense of them.
Dr Daniel Gooch and I investigate social presence (the feeling of being emotionally close to another individual) and how to mediate this through communication technologies.
>Dr Ryan Kelly and I, advised by Dan Gooch, are examining how perceptions of effortfulness can influence caring and other indications of empathy. We believe that it is important to consider how designs support the investment of care and the appreciation of effort in the use of personal communication technology. The Leverhulme Trust is funding us to examine this question.
the advancement of knowledge, the dissemination and extension of sciences and arts, the provision of technological, liberal and professional education