Theory and Practice in Discourse and Dialogue for Interactive Systems
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Course Summary

Course: EECS 431-20, Comm Studies 525-23
Term: Fall 2009 Credits: 3
When: Wed 2:00 - 4:50 PM
Where:Frances Searle Building 2-370
Justine's Office Hours: Fridays 2-3:30pm, Ford 3.330 (First come first served)
Zeina's Office Hours: Tuesdays 2-3pm, Ford 2.227 (Please email if attending)

Professor Justine Cassell
TA: Zeina Atrash

Digital technologies talk -- a lot -- these days. Technologies as diverse as videogame/synthetic characters, airline telephone reservations systems, online chat communities, search engines, and interactive tutoring systems all seem to use -- and therefore 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, or mediate communication among people, one needs to have a certain background in how the language of discourse and conversation function, and how they change when one of the speaker/listeners is a computer. That is, how do we convey what we intend to say through language? Does how we say something change depending on who we are saying it to (boss vs. best friend; sweetheart vs. ex-sweetheart)? Do people from different cultures have different rules for conversation? And, how do we structure communication 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 the design features 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. Topics covered will include communication and culture, communication and nonverbal behavior, communication and social emotions. 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 team project.

This year we will pay particular attention to the idea of cultural differences and how they affect human-human interaction mediated by computers, and how they affect human-computer interaction. We will also pay attention to rapport between humans and communicative technologies - what are the concepts that go into social rapport (politeness, bonding, attention, positivity, etc.), how do we build systems that can initiate and sustain relationships with their human users, how do we evaluate whether systems are doing a good job at building rapport?

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 Engineering-oriented students and Communication/Linguistics/Education-oriented students will work together.