Interaction with AI: Design, technology or psychology?

An Interview with Dr Kinga Schumacher, Computer Scientist at the DFKI

Interfaces are gateways to Artificial Intelligence. The computer scientist Kinga Schumacher designs these transitions. She works as a research assistant at the Deutschen Forschungszentrum für Künstliche Intelligenz (German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence).

Why are you concerned with intelligent user interfaces?

During my research, I became aware that it is not enough to make computers very intelligent as long as users don’t accept them, don’t understand them or simply don’t know how to use them. It is just not enough, so that’s why I moved into the area of intelligent user interfaces.

Why do you research interfaces for special target groups?

Just think about the blind and the deaf or about people suffering from Parkinson’s, or about people with diverse cultural backgrounds – symbols or colours often have different meanings in different cultures – or think about multilingual groups, or remember that not everyone is a digital native – there are still many people, who have no experience of information technology and who also have anxieties. All these various types of people should be able to use technology, and therefore we need individual user interfaces.

That sounds very complex and I ask myself whether your work is design, technology or even psychology?

It is all three combined. From a design point of view, I am an interaction designer. But of course technology is also involved, and for my work, communication technologies are most important. I am looking at technology and at conceptual structures of user interfaces from a communications point of view.

What is more important: language or design?

The surface is important because we are rather attracted to something that is aesthetically pleasing than to something that is not. But language is more important: the terminology and the descriptions that we are using need to be understood by everyone, also by those who have little tech experience – or who even have anxieties. They have to be able to use the software or hardware that we are using around here.

How do you approach this task?

I usually analyse the requirements. First of all, the technological ones: which hardwares and which softwares would be appropriate. At the same time, I am looking at the target group and at the requirements that need consideration. What are the particularities and what is actually needed?

In order to receive information that is vital for me, I need to develop methods of communicating with users – that is quite challenging. Because if I used my jargon, people wouldn’t understand what I am talking about.

What is happening – from a technological point of view – during such developments?

We choose hardware and software components that fulfill the requirements and the needs of a certain user group.

Machine learning enables individualised interfaces? Is that the future?

Adaptive user interfaces will definitely be part of the future. If we want to create technologies that are accessible and usable by all the different target groups that we were talking about earlier, and if we want technologies that serve those user groups, then we  require adaptive user interfaces. The systems have to be able to adapt to their users.

How can AI bring about a better life?

Well it won’t happen by way of humanoid robots. Just imagine our lives, if smartphones were not equipped with security or modern cars had no computer control. Both already include a lot of AI.

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