A HAPII Place for Computer Science Research
Assistant Professor Ben Stiechen, left. (Top left-right) Kevin Scroggins, Carla Castillo, Patriz Daroy, (Bottom left-right) Angela Gadon, graduate students: Alex Garcia, Wilsen Kosasih, Jesus Leon.
Whether you’re using your laptop to conduct research, typing a text on your phone or asking Siri to tell you a joke, you’re experiencing the human/computer interface (HCI). At the HAPPII lab in the College of Science, students are working under the guidance of Assistant Professor Ben Steichen to improve that interface.
HAPPII stands for Human-centered, Adaptive, and Personalized Information Interaction. “The lab researches novel solutions that aim to understand and support each individual user,” Steichen said.
They’re currently looking at how they can better support multilingual users in search, and recommended systems, where an interface provides personal recommendations.
“The research I’m involved in is predicting a user’s language proficiency based on their eye-gaze data. The end goal is to create an adaptive system,” said alumnus Wilsen Kosasih (’20, MS computer science). Eye-gaze is a device that tracks where people look on a computer screen.
“We developed a web browser tool aimed at increasing multiculturalism while browsing the internet,” student Angela Gadon added.
Steichen said “A lot has been done on improving search algorithms but not as much on user modeling and personalization. Currently, if you conduct a search, your results are only going to be in the language you use in your search. If you’re multilingual, you could benefit from results in other languages.”
Another aspect of personalizing the interface is discovering what sort of information users want in another language. One study the lab conducted found that users prefer to receive news and health related information in their native tongue; however, for technology or business information, users preferred English, regardless of what their first language was.
“The goal of this research is to develop personalized algorithms and interfaces to provide tailored result pages for each individual user,” Steichen said.
Tailored results are one aspect of the HAPII lab’s research, the other is adaptive visualization, which addresses how the information is displayed for the user.
“With so much information available to us, people can get overloaded, and information visualization systems help humans deal with large amounts of information,” student Patriz Daroy said. “I utilize adaptive overlays to understand how people interact and synthesize information using different visualizations. I’m interested in ensuring that technology is accessible.”
“When we talk about visualization systems we’re talking about things like charts and graphs. Right now they’re one size fits all, but some people do better with different visualizations. We’re looking at people’s cognitive styles, abilities, and personalities,” Steichen said.
Artificial intelligence can allow systems to learn what’s best for a user. “User modeling and personalization are at the crossroads of HCI and Artificial intelligence,” Steichen added.
In the College of Science, educational opportunities extend beyond classes and labs. In 2019 Steichen acquired an NSF grant to allow 15 CPP students to attend The Web Conference in San Francisco. It is THE event for all things web related. Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau, who collaborated to create what we now call the web, spoke at the conference. Steichen was the student relations chair and co-organized the event.
An exciting partnership that Steichen is involved in is placing interns at Microsoft. Distinguished Alumna Maria Alvarez (’95, MS computer science), who is General Manager of Strategy and Business Services for Microsoft’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) Platform team, supports students through scholarships and approached Steichen about internships.
Steichen explained how it works. “We place two students as interns at Microsoft. They work with Maria’s team in the areas of user experience, software development, or business. The students are mentored by me and Microsoft staff. If they do well, they may get a job offer.”
“Two of my students who participated, Angela Gadon, and Jesus Leon, received job offers from Microsoft and will begin working as software engineers in August,” Steichen added.
“The programming languages and software we learned at the HAPII lab helped me with my work at Microsoft. The experience taught me how to ask the right questions and the importance of thorough design – skills that I’m sure will come in handy as a full time software engineer,” Gadon said.
Graduate student Leon said, “My research at HAPII exposed me to collaboration and team work. All our mentors at Microsoft were extremely helpful and friendly.”
“Making software for people is very different from creating code for a grade. It requires more focus. Seeing people use something that I created made me even more excited to begin work at Microsoft.”
The HAPII lab uses eye tracking hardware to create heat maps showing participants' areas of focus on web search results.