STEM Spotlight: Technology With Human Sensibilities - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise Magazine September/October 2018 Issue

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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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Marcia Wade Talbert

Marcia is a multimedia content producer focusing on technology at Black Enterprise Magazine. In this capacity she writes and assigns stories to educate readers about social media; digital integration; gadgets, apps, and software for business and professional development; minority tech startups; and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In 2012, she received two Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and was recognized by Blacks in Technology (BiT) as one of the Top 10 Black achievers in the tech arena for 2011 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She has spoken about technology on panels for New York Social Media Week, at The 2012 Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Summit, as well as at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Conference and Women of Power Summit. In 2011, chose her as one of 28 People of Color Impacting the Social Web, and through crowdsourcing she was listed as one of BlackWeb2.0's/HP's 50 Most Notable African American Tastemakers in Social Media and Technology for 2010. Since taking on the role of Tech editor in September 2010, she has conceived and produced five cover stories on Technology and/or STEM and countless articles, videos, and slideshows online. Before joining as an interactive general assignment reporter in 2008, she freelanced with Black Enterprise beginning in 2003 while working as the technical editor at Prepared Foods magazine. There she further honed her writing skills and became an authority on food ingredients, including ingredients used in food fortification and enrichment. Meanwhile, her freelancing with Black Enterprise and helped her stay current on issues pertaining to the financial and business welfare of African Americans. As a general reporter for Black Enterprise she attended and reported on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Marcia has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in food science from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science degree in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago. En route to her secondary degree, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Roosevelt University Torch, a weekly, student-run newspaper. An avid photographer and videographer, Marcia is one of several employees at BLACK ENTERPRISE who interned for the publishing company as a college student. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, a food scientist; her seventeen-month-old daughter; and “The Cat”, but still considers Chicago home.