New at the university: Prof. Andreas Bulling

“Working towards anticipatory computers”

Recognition and incentive, that is what Prof. Andreas Bulling primarily draws from the newest ERC Starting Grant, awarded by the European Research Council for his project “ANTICIPATE: Anticipatory Human-Computer Interaction”. On August 1, 2018, Bulling took up the post of Professor for Human-Computer Interaction and Cognitive Systems at the University of Stuttgart’s Institute for Visualisation and Interactive Systems.

How can the interaction between humans and computers be improved? Could computers become more human in their interactions and in how they respond to the user? Could a computer proactively respond to its user, could it adapt to an individual’s personality or individuality, the learning behavior or the interests of the user, or even become an assistant? For example, might a computer be able to adapt learning material to suit the interests of the user and even improve the user’s attention span and ability to focus on specific things?

New user interfaces for better interactions

For scientist Andreas Bulling, these are just a few of the exciting issues that will ultimately change the world of work and the field of science in the future. His main area of expertise is new research into user interfaces that are designed based on interpersonal interactions: the interests and intentions of the user are analyzed to allow the computer to adapt proactively to future user interactions. Bulling says, “In this way, we can significantly improve naturalness, intuition, efficiency and user-friendliness.”

How can the interaction between humans and computers be improved?
How can the interaction between humans and computers be improved?

He explains his approach as follows: “People have the impressive ability to make assumptions about conscious or rational processes, such as emotions, needs, ideas, intentions or expectations.” We adapt our behavior to suit that of the other person. Parents behave in a way suitable for children, teachers in a way that appropriate for their pupils, etc. This skill, the so-called “Theory of Mind”, is essential for every form of human social interaction.

Proactively adapting to the user

Despite its importance in our modern information society, and decades of research in the field of human-computer interaction, user interfaces still do not possess this important skill, says Bulling. Even important prerequisites, particularly our understanding of the user’s interests, or the ability to predict intentions or to anticipate user input remain largely unexplored. “The ability to proactively adapt to the user is still very much in its early stages,” says the scientist. This new project intends to advance this area and to establish anticipatory human-computer interaction as an independent research field within the field of human-computer interaction.

Other fields of research could also benefit

The algorithms and interaction paradigms developed as part of the project are intended to pave the way for the development of user interfaces based on natural, interpersonal interaction. For example, future systems could anticipate the user’s information needs, tailor computer-based training to optimally suit individual skills or improve the diagnosis and treatment of autism, which often goes hand in hand with deficits in the abovementioned behaviors and skills.  Bulling is certain that, “Alongside applications in human-computer interactions, other research fields will also profit from the newly developed methods, for example cognitive neuroscience and social and behavioral research.”

In other research projects, Andreas Bulling investigates non-verbal signals, for example body language used during social interactions to aid emotion recognition, algorithmic user (behavior) modelling based on sustainable and ubiquitous sensors and the use of these and other methods in the field of usable security and privacy.

Prof. Andreas Bulling was born in Ludwigshafen am Rhein in 1981. He studied computer science at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) received his PhD in 2010 from the Eidgenössischen Technischen Hochschule (ETH) Zürich in Information Technology and Electrical Engineering. He went on to work at the University of Cambridge, the Max Planck Institute for Informatics in Saarbrücken and the Cluster of Excellence "Multimodal Computing and Interaction (MMCI)" at the University of Saarland. On August 1, 2018 he became head of the “Human-Computer Interaction and Cognitive Systems” at the University of Stuttgart’s Institute for Visualization and Interactive Systems.

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