Author Archives: scottrob

Congratulations to Philipp Jordan on a Successful Ph.D. Defense

Philipp Jordan begins his presentation.

HICHI Lab member, Philipp Jordan, successfully defended his dissertation, “A Meta-Study and Content Analysis of Science Fiction in Computer Science Research.” He is now “Dr. Phil,” with a brand new Ph.D. from the interdisciplinary Communication and Information Science program.



The depictions of advanced devices, innovative interactions and future technologies in science fiction are a regular topic in popular news and tech magazines. While actual studies concerning the usage of science fiction in computer science research are scarce and if any, rely mostly on anecdotal evidence and scattered oral accounts, such investigations are critical to better understand the potential utility and latent shortcomings of science fiction for computing research, innovation and education. Through a content analysis of science communication, this dissertation endeavors to shed light on the relationship between both domains. Based on a dataset of n=1647 computer science publications, retrieved in the IEEE Xplore Digital Library via a faceted, full-text search for `science fiction’, this dissertation presents a study of science communication. A random sample of n=500 records of the principal dataset is subjected to a detailed, qualitative content analysis over 10 variables, including an inter-rater agreement evaluation of n=125 publications between two raters for two interpretative variables – the type of research paper and the contextual usage of the science fiction referral. 

The results of the study show that science fiction, in the grand scheme of things, is a niche topic in computer science research. Within that margin, however, the results demonstrate that science fiction referrals appear primarily in opinion-type research contributions, most often for reasons of drawing inspiration and innovation into the research paper. In addition, the analysis of science fiction referrals, across paper types and contexts over time, indicates a transition and diversification from initially, informal contributions toward later on, a broader diversity of research publication types. Also, the study shows that science fiction films are more often referenced than science writings. Most recently, in publications from 2014-2017, an emphasis on a broad and diverse set of concrete, visual, science fiction – potentially indicating a shift away of scientists from written, interpretative science fiction – can be observed. 

The analysis of the most frequent, specific science fiction referrals reflects a narrow, mostly western-originated selection of the most popular, influential and iconic science fiction authors, writings, films, and characters of the 20th century, among those, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer, the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, including its main antagonist, HAL 9000. The results and implications of this study can guide computer scientists and educators to consciously utilize science fiction in their research and scholarship and therefore, contribute to forthcoming, innovative HCI and computer science research, application, and education. In addition, the results provide insight into the appropriation of popular culture within a technical-oriented, professional, academic science communication repository. Building upon extensive prior work, this dissertation moreover provides a methodological framework, which allows the meaningful discovery of interdisciplinary relations between computer science research and culture & art.

New start!

Nurit Kirshenbaum presents her work at ISS’18

Nurit Kirshenbaum presented her work on bendable interfaces at the 2018 ACM International Conference on Interactive Surfaces and Spaces in Tokyo! Her paper was titled Define, refine, and identify events in a bendable interface.

As we aspire to bring bendable interfaces closer to mainstream use, we need to resolve practical issues such as the event model for bend input. This work takes steps towards understanding the bend events space for a simplified 1DOF (Degree of Freedom) device. We suggest that a rich set of informative bend events can elevate application development for bendable devices. In this work, we describe the current state of event models for bendable devices, our suggested refined model, and the steps we are taking toward implementing an event system.

Nurit Kirshenbaum Presents Her Work at CHI Play in Melbourne

Congratulations to graduate student Nurit Kirshenbaum who presented her work on tangible interactive playing cards at CHI Play 2018 in Melbourne.


PEPA Deck: Bringing Interactivity to Playing Cards
Nurit Kirshenbaum and Scott Robertson

With the rise of computers and mobile devices, digital card games have gained popularity and market success, offering features that the classic paper cards cannot. We identify a possibility to fill a gap between paper and digital card games by creating a tangible interface of smart objects with embedded electronics that will garner the benefits of both existing modes. In this paper, we describe the Paper-like Entertainment Platform Agents (PEPA) deck, a conceptual system of tangible interactive cards that use bend gesture interaction as a form of input.


Scott Robertson Presents at Socio-Tech Futures

Scott Robertson presented a “provocation” at the Decennial “Socio-Tech Futures” Event of the Consortium for the Science of Socio-Technical Systems Research, June 2018, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The event brought together alumni from over 10 years of summer workshops.

The Consortium for the Science of Sociotechnical Systems (CSST) is a NSF-supported research coordination network (Grant #1144934) supporting a community of academic and industry scholars who study sociotechnical systems.

Here is the provocation extended abstract:

What Happened? #Sociotech4Evil

Scott Robertson, Information and Computer Sciences, University of Hawaii
Trolling, Misuse, Propaganda, Weaponization, Politics

I have been studying social media and civic engagement for about ten years, which is more or less the lifespan of most social media platforms. I began with an optimistic and utopian perspective on the promise of these systems for broadening public discourse, engaging citizens, and encouraging participation. Over the ten years, this optimism has been tempered by reality, and ultimately soured completely by the overwhelming misuse of sociotechnical systems to mislead individuals and corrupt democratic discourse (#sociotech4evil?).  So, what happened and why were we so naïve (not everyone was, of course)?

Our research community is now at an ethical and moral crossroads comparable to the situation of social scientists after WWII. Some of the best research in social science came out of attempts to understand conformity, persuasion, obedience to authority, diffusion of responsibility, moral judgement, and other matters relevant to maintenance of a civil and just society after the world collapsed into chaos in the mid-20th century. At this moment we find ourselves at the edge of a sociotechnical abyss, where social media companies are struggling to understand how to adjust their tools, legislatures and courts are attempting to respond to widespread information manipulation, and citizens are coping with propaganda and troll campaigns that infiltrate their everyday social sphere. This will only get worse as indefatigable social AI systems based on machine learning are exposed to training in the black arts of propaganda and social manipulation proliferate.

Have we as sociotechnical researchers focused too much on technical matters and the promise of social media, thereby failing to anticipate the motives of bad actors and the vulnerabilities of individuals immersed in new media technologies? How can we now change course, and pick up the difficult task of convincing funding agencies and others that we are not only facing a technical challenge, but a social challenge as well? Those who use sociotechnical systems to bad ends are taking advantage of new social and cognitive phenomena that are poorly understood: fractured attention, liquid tribalism, pervasive commercialization of social life and consciousness, media hyper-personalization, digital identity management, social media anxiety, big data profiling for profit, social bots trained to harm, and so on. While there are researchers who concern themselves with maleficent use of social media, it is critical for the whole sociotechnical community to develop a coordinated approach to these phenomena and possibly adopt a practice of exploring “threat assessment” as part of every research paper and proposal.

Philipp Jordan’s Work Highlighted in MIT Technology Review

Congratulations to ICS graduate student and HICHI lab member Philipp Jordan who had his work highlighted in MIT Technology Review. Phil studies how science fiction inspires human-computer interaction research and design.

The Tech Review article was inspired by Phil et al’s most recent paper:  Exploring the Referral and Usage of Science Fiction in HCI Literature.