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Games Machines Play

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FRONTIERS Profile: Justine Cassell 4 pages: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 |

How did your interest in linguistics and psychology lead you to work with technology and computers?

As I began applying for jobs, I realized that the whole field was full of boundaries. The interdisciplinary work that I wanted to do wasn't going to be easy to find a home for. My first job, at Penn State, I was faculty in three departments. Linguistics, Psychology, and French. I knew that my interests should have a home. So I applied to be visiting faculty at University of Pennsylvania where I was in the Institute for Research on Cognitive Science - which is interdisciplinary to start with - and I was also in Computer Science for the first time.

When I first came to MIT, I thought, "these people are crazy."

That year, I planned to build computational models of the relationship between speech and gesture. That would be a way of proving to these different communities that what I was doing was really science. The models that I wanted to build were virtual people in whom I could fit my grammars of the relationships between speech and gesture. I could test my hypothesis by building one virtual human that ran one hypothesis and another virtual human that ran another one, and then compare them.

I had a group of graduate students whom I worked with to build these virtual people, and three faculty with whom I collaborated. We built the very first speaking and gesturing virtual human.

What is it like working at MIT's Media Lab?

Photo of Cassell and Her Lab

Cassell and her students at MIT with some of thier creations, REA, Beat (at left), Monster and Sam (at right).


When I first came here, I thought, "these people are crazy." I remember somebody showing me a software program that could take a photograph and find trees in it. And I thought, "What? I could find trees." I just had no understanding of the fields that went into this, and half the time I thought they were pulling my leg. But, I found that there was lots of overlap between what they were doing and what I was doing. In children's learning, in narrative, in gesture, in language. I was just blown away that finally, in one building, everything I did could be housed.
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Photo: MIT Media Lab


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