The Human Factor
Justine Cassell is the Charles M. Geschke Director of the Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII) at Carnegie Mellon University and regarded as one of the field's leading innovators.
She is one of the world-class faculty members that CMU students of all disciplines can work closely with on some of the most groundbreaking projects in computer science.
"One of the projects I'm working on concerns children with autism — in particular, children with Asperger's syndrome, or high-functioning autism, who are often very smart and very interested in computers and technology but who may have less of an ability to interact with other people," Cassell explained.
Cassell is researching a way for computers to link those children to the social world. There are many benefits to friendship — to interpersonal connection — and modeling the use of language for children with Aspergers to make and maintain relationships may prove valuable.
"At HCII we try and build learning tools that fully involve the child as a collaborator in his or her own learning."
Cassell recently joined three other CMU faculty members at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, where they were invited to present an IdeasLab session.
"The theme of our IdeasLab was leveraging human-machine collaboration for a better world, something that I really believe in."
This was the third WEF meeting she was invited to attend. At her first meeting in 2011, she also took part in an IdeasLab with CMU faculty. She was then asked to sit on one of the Global Agenda Councils (GACs). The GACs advise the World Economic Forum on global challenges.
"The theme of the WEF this year in Davos was transformational new models, and I can't think of any university in the U.S. or elsewhere that better represents the power of new models in science and technology," Cassell said.
"We are a place that constantly innovates. And it's wonderful to see that the WEF has recognized that Carnegie Mellon is developing new models that the rest of the world needs to hear about."
Students in the HCII have the opportunity to work closely with Cassell and her colleagues, who are leaders in their fields.
"And because we have such a strong belief in interdisciplinarity, we are really devoted to working with students from different backgrounds than our own," she said.
Cassell added that at the HCII the process of revolutionizing new technology also gives students an opportunity to collaborate with faculty and other students on multidisciplinary teams.
"We recognize that innovation isn't tied to a particular field. It's tied to a particular way of being."