Theory and Practice in Discourse and Dialogue for Interactive Systems
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Course Summary
Course: Comm.Studies 525-24, CS 431-20
Term: Fall 2007 Credit: 3
When: W 2:00 - 4:50 PM
Where: Searle 2-115

Professors Justine Cassell
Darren Gergle
William Horton

{justine, dgergle, whorton}
TA: Brooke Foucault <>

Technologies as diverse as videogame/synthetic characters, airline telephone reservations systems, online chat communities, search engines, and interactive tutoring systems all rely on the use of language between two people mediated by a computer, or between a computer and a person. In order to carry out critical analysis of these technologies, and in order to be effective designers of systems that communicate with humans such as these, one needs to have a certain background in how the language of discourse functions, and how it changes when one of the speaker/listeners is a computer. That is, how do we convey intention through language? How do we convey not just intention, but the finer points of style: something new, something relevant, something polite, something intimate? Why are some ways of putting things easier to understand than others? And, how do we structure interactions to take advantage of the design features of language (reference to things or people that aren't in the immediate environment, to things that don't exist), and of human bodies (the discourse functions of faces, hands, bodies)?

In this course we pair theory about how the language of discourse functions with computational work that relies on that theoretical foundation. The goal is to give students practice in how theory in this domain can be adapted and adopted in the design of innovative interactive technology. To this end, the student will engage in a increasingly complex set of design exercises based on the nitty-gritty fundamentals of discourse, and culminating in a project of the student's own design.

This year we will pay particular attention to the concept of grounding - the processes by which humans negotiate mutually agreed-upon meanings and conventions in order to achieve basic interactive goals. In order to successfully communicate, people need to account for a wide variety of factors during the generation and comprehension of speech including their prior discussions as well as their various degrees of shared background, goals, language, beliefs, culture, etc. As technologies extend our reach to more diverse global environments, it is important to understand how people use this expanded diversity of cues, and how they successfully manage the multiplicity of relations that emerge in the large-scale and rapidly changing communities within which they interact.

Requirements: Graduate or advanced undergraduate students. Background in Linguistics, Communication, AND/OR building interactive systems preferable. You do NOT need to know how to program in order to take this class! All assignments will be carried out in teams in such a way that Computer Science-oriented students and Communication/Linguistics/Education-oriented students will work together.