Computing Alumnus Wins NSF Career Award

May 29, 2008

Anind K. Dey, who earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the College of Computing, has received the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development Award, the agency’s most prestigious award for junior faculty.

The five-year, $500,000 grant will support Dey’s work on making intelligent, interactive systems easier for people to understand and control. These systems are expected to proliferate in the coming years, gathering information about people’s circumstances, environment and preferences. Such systems could help with tasks such as planning routes for car travel, making travel reservations and managing family schedules. But they also have the potential to be intrusive and to make annoying mistakes that could lead people to reject them.

“These systems will have to explain themselves or people will abandon them,” said Dey, now an assistant professor in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. “If people understand how the system works, I believe they will be more willing to accept them.”

Microsoft, for instance, eventually eliminated Clippy, the paperclip-like character that was supposed to help people use Microsoft Office 97 features but proved puzzling and annoying. Amazon.com, on the other hand, solved problems with its system for recommending books based on previous purchases by allowing customers to note recommendations that were unwanted.

With the NSF’s support, Dey’s research team is creating a tool for developing these intelligent systems to include features that explain to users why they do certain things and give users control over the system and any personal information it gathers.