Tuesday, April 07, 2009

chi2009 -- day 2

Some interesting stuff at CHI today:

- "Difficulties in establishing common ground in multiparty groups using machine translation": Naomi Yamashita talked about a study where they had a Chinese speaker, and Korean speaker, and a Japanese speaker all working together on a task over machine-translated instant messaging. Apparently this kind of works with two languages, but it's a disaster with three. She did detailed analysis of their chat logs to figure out where things went wrong: because you can't see the translation flaws between the other two speakers, you don't have enough information to understand why they make the adjustments they do in trying to communicate. So things spin out of control. They had some elaborate suggestions for fixing this, by loading up everyone with more information. I didn't really care for their solutions; I think doing three-way translations probably requires a specialized translation engine that maps words consistently among the three languages, even at the cost of some inaccuracy. I bet people could adapt better to some translation weirdness if it least everything was consistent and predictable.

- "Spectator Understanding of Error in Performance": this was a poster in the poster room, and I chatted with one of the authors. They had a psychological theory about how people interpret mistakes in musical performances, especially for unfamiliar kinds of music: did the musician hit the wrong note, or did the listener misunderstand what the musician was trying to do? The guy kindly engaged me in philosophical musing about it as I tried to think how it might relate to a programmer's perception of program errors when debugging.

- "Resilience through technology adoption: merging the old and the new in Iraq": Gloria Mark talked about internet, cell phone, and satellite TV use in Iraq. Fascinating stuff, but the biggest takeaway for me was this: bring a printout of your slides, so if the projectors or computers go horribly, horribly awry, you can give your talk without a computer in front of you. I gather that an Iraqi would have known that!

- Another poster by Anja Austerman, and Seiji Yamada: It was a very clever study about how people try to train robots. They gave people the task of training a robot. But the robot in fact already knew the task, and was programmed to behave or misbehave at certain times, in order to collect data about how the people tried to train it. Her idea was that a robot for the home might go through a pre-training phase like this, to learn its owners training styles; then later they could train it to do real tasks in a way that felt natural to them.

- alt.chi is a set of sessions with stuff that doesn't get accepted into the regular conference. So the talks are a little weird or speculative. There was one about how computers can help "improve love"; one on "thanatosensitivity" in design (product designers should plan for the death of the user and how the family is going to deal with the deceased's online identity, cell phone contacts, etc); and a study about people who do medical research online before they go see their doctor.

- Jet Townsend from CMU had a gizmo you can wear on your arm, that tells you where there are strong electromagnetic signals in the room around you. I wish I had the skills to do hardware hacking like that.

- Todd's been all a-twitter, and I've found out about cool stuff 2nd hand through him, like the MIT tour last night, and a Stockholm University shindig tonight, at which I met many cool people.

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