STEM Spotlight: Technology With Human Sensibilities

Advice and news about careers, education, and business opportunities in science and technology

Juan Gilbert Ph.D. gives technology a human understanding

Imagine receiving a text message that you don’t use your hands or eyes to intercept. The obvious solution is to use your ears. While  scientists have created phones that read text messages aloud, most of those concepts don’t take human behavior into account. If a text message is made audible using a computer software but is written using shorthand–e.g., LOL (laugh out loud) and SMH (shaking my head)–then the receiver will most likely pick up the phone to read the message if it wasn’t translated correctly.  That defeats the purpose of making the message hands-free.

Juan E. Gilbert, Ph.D., chair of the human centered computing division at Clemson University, along with his team of doctoral and post doctoral students invented “Voicing”, a way to send and receive short messages in a way that keeps the hands and eyes free, and gives the recipient more control as to what form they receive their messages. Students at Clemson University will be giving the voicing interface a test run this November to see if the software actually keeps them from being distracted by their phones while driving.

Human Centered Computing is what Gilbert and his students call the process they used to create voiceing. Although HCC is a new discipline with Ph.D. programs in only two schools (University of Maryland, Baltimore County and Georgia Tech), it was first recognized and legitimized by the National Science Foundation. Plus other schools like Clemson are hoping to receive certification for HCC programs at their schools. Black Enterprise spoke with Gilbert about HCC, the research he’s done, and the career opportunities available for people with experience in this area.

Black Enterprise: What is human centered computing?
Juan Gilbert:
We design, build, and evaluate real world problems that integrate people, technology, information, policy, and culture. We have the ability to design something (typically software solutions, but not limited or restricted to software), implement it, then test and evaluate it.

Why is the HCC approach important?
It is important because it takes an interdisciplinary approach to solve the issues that we have. We understand people and we know how to design solutions that enable people or benefit people, or improve upon the task that they are trying to do.

Give me an example of how your research is used in the real world?
Prime 3 is an electronic voting system we wrote. It allows you to vote using touch and/or voice. People who can’t hear, see, or read, and people without arms can all privately and independently vote on the same machine as anyone else. It is a touch screen, and it has a headset or a microphone if you don’t have arms. It will say to you “To vote for candidate A, say ‘vote’ or blow into the microphone to make a selection.”  If I were ease dropping on that person, all I would hear them say was ‘vote,’ or I would hear them blow into a microphone. You have no way of knowing who they are voting for. That is a software design but we are also implementing a hardware design of what the physical manifestation of the machine should be.

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