Putting humans first in computer design
Computer Science faculty focused on human-computer interaction field
By Andrea Poet
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We have the power to make unbelievable technologies but if we lose sight of the people that interface with those technologies, I think that we’re missing the point. And that’s where my work really comes in.Assistant professor of computer science|
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Improving accessibility and inclusivity
Chattopadhyay, a computer scientist turned HCI researcher, focuses on mobile technology, mid-air gesture input, virtual humans, and inclusive design.
Aging and accessibility is an area Chattopadhyay is very interested in. She said these groups of users are not always kept in mind as a target population for mainstream technologies. While the percentage of seniors using mobile phones is growing, they do not use all they have to offer. A lot of these features can be essential to living in 2023, especially the last few years, such as grocery delivery apps, or Covid-19 vaccination clinic sign-ups. To narrow the digital divide, she includes users from around the world in her research to ensure whatever is created is not just for people living in developed countries.
“No one wants to use an application or technology because somebody created it, they want to use it to achieve something,” Chattopadhyay said. “They want to use what you and I are using. They want to use it with their friends and grandchildren.”
Chattopadhyay is also developing a tool using AI avatars to assist in screening for PTSD among homeless and incarcerated women. She is working on this healthcare tool in collaboration with Rush University.
“It takes months to get a mental healthcare professional, so imagine the availability of mental healthcare for this underserved population,” Chattopadhyay said. “We are not trying to replace mental healthcare with AI, but this human-in-the-loop tool can mitigate the burden of mental health professionals with some initial screening.”
Bridging the gap between computers and artistic expression
Kerne has long straddled the creative and computational worlds. His background includes varied endeavors, from working as a senior software engineer in computer vision for NASA on the Mars Pathfinder project to spending a year in West Africa, studying traditional dancing and drumming, and working with Ghanaian artists on a piece for the Pan African Theater Festival.
He treats computing as a means of expression, focusing on creativity, play, participation, teaching and learning, and inclusion. Using design, sensory interface systems, AI, and algorithms, Kerne and his team develop tools, games, social networks, collections, installations, and performances that incorporate computation.
“Computing has always been a part of my life,” Kerne said. “Computing is not necessarily beneficial to humanity, but I want to believe that it can be. I made a commitment to myself that my involvement with computing will further that.”
These four HCI researchers are making advances in the field and teaching UIC students the importance of designing for the users of their technology. By putting humans first in the design process and creating technology with its users in mind, we can all benefit.
“I never thought of ‘users’ during my years of training as an engineer. I would build things—and that was it,” Chattopadhyay said. “Did anyone use it? How was their experience? Could their experience be better?”