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April 5: Carnegie Mellon Names Justine Cassell Director Of Human-Computer Interaction Institute


Byron Spice      

Carnegie Mellon Names Justine Cassell Director
Of Human-Computer Interaction Institute

cassellPITTSBURGH—Randal E. Bryant, dean of Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science, has announced the appointment of Justine Cassell as the new director of the school's Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII). Cassell, whose research focuses on computer systems that interact with people in human-like ways, succeeds Daniel P. Siewiorek, who will resume his research and teaching duties at the university.
Cassell, currently director of the Center for Technology & Social Behavior at Northwestern University in Chicago, will become a member of the Carnegie Mellon faculty on Aug. 1.
"I'm looking forward to joining Carnegie Mellon and, together with the faculty, staff and students, bringing HCII into the future," Cassell said.
"We are excited by the prospect of having Justine Cassell join our faculty and take on the directorship of the Human-Computer Interaction Institute," Bryant said. "We believe that she will expand the horizons of the institute while helping it continue as one of the world's outstanding centers for investigating how computers can better serve individuals and society."
Siewiorek, HCII director since 1998, will resume his duties as the Buhl Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Computer Science, as a project leader for human system interaction within the Quality of Life Technology Center and as leader for smart work technologies within the Heinz College's Center for the Future of Work.
"I want to thank Dan Siewiorek for his service to the HCII," Bryant said. "During his tenure, the institution has flourished and expanded both its research and educational programs."
Cassell holds a master's degree in literature from the Université de Besançon (France), a master's degree in linguistics from the University of Edinburgh (Scotland), and a double Ph.D. in psychology and linguistics from the University of Chicago.
Her research interests originated in the study of the verbal and nonverbal aspects of human-to-human conversation and storytelling. Progressively she became interested in allowing computational systems to participate in these activities. This new technological focus led her to deconstruct the linguistic and nonverbal elements of conversation and storytelling in such a way as to embody machines with conversational, social and narrative intelligence so that they could interact with humans in human-like ways. Increasingly, however, her research has come to address the impact and benefits of technologies such as these on learning and communication.
In particular, Cassell is credited with developing the Embodied Conversational Agent (ECA), a virtual human capable of interacting with humans using both language and nonverbal behavior. More recently Cassell has investigated the role that the ECA can play in children's lives as a virtual peer providing support for learning language, STEM literacy and social skills. Cassell also has employed linguistic and psychological analyses to look at the effects of online conversation among a diverse global group of young people on self-esteem, self-efficacy and sense of community.
Once machines have human-like capabilities, can they be used to evoke the best communicative skills that humans are capable of, the richest learning? This is the goal of Cassell's research: to develop technologies that evoke from humans the most human and humane of our capabilities, and to study their effects on our evolving world.
At Northwestern, Cassell is a professor in the School of Communication and the McCormack School of Engineering and Applied Science, and graduate director of the Technology and Social Behavior Ph.D. program offered jointly by the two schools. She previously was a tenured associate professor at the MIT Media Lab, where she directed the Gesture and Narrative Language Research Group.
Cassell won the Edgerton Faculty Achievement Award at MIT in 2001, was the recipient of the AT&T Research Chair at Northwestern in 2006, and was presented the Anita Borg Institute Women of Vision Award for Leadership in 2008.
Follow the School of Computer Science on Twitter @SCSatCMU.


Pictured above is Justine Cassell, the new director of Carnegie Mellon's Human-Computer Interaction Institute.