Move over, Siri: talking technology isn’t enough

Barbara Di Eugenio

Barbara Di Eugenio: “What I’m interested in is interaction with a computer with a purpose.” Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services (click on image for larger file size)

It’s not enough to develop computers that talk.

“What I’m interested in is interaction with a computer with a purpose,” says Barbara Di Eugenio, associate professor of computer science.

For her innovative work in natural language processing — which teaches computers to interact with people in everyday language — Di Eugenio received the Innovator Award from the Chicago Chapter of the Association for Women in Science June 26.

Unlike the iPhone’s Siri, the programs Di Eugenio is developing can do more than recognize a question and give an answer.

Her projects include an intelligent tutoring system based on human instructors and a robot that can help people live independently as they age.

For the tutoring project, Di Eugenio collected data on human tutors — the kind of language they use, their strategies, how they encourage their students — to create a computer interface that can support learning as effectively as a human tutor.

Designing a robot caregiver will require collecting a huge amount of data on caregiver and patient interactions. Her collaborators include a gerontology nurse from Rush University and UIC biomedical information specialists.

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