University of Washington Department of Computer Science and Engineering
June 1, 2004
“My colleagues and I believe that the combination of Artificial Intelligence and Ubiquitous Computing holds great promise for people with Alzheimer’s Disease, mental retardation, traumatic brain injury, and similar cognitive handicaps.”
- Professor Henry Kautz, CSE
In order to respond to social ideas and needs, CSE seeks high-impact projects that allow the faculty to collaborate with interdisciplinary and community partners. These projects demonstrate to CSE students the importance of tackling problems where society might benefit from technology solutions.
Scope of Assisted Cognition
The Assisted Cognition project led by Professor Henry Kautz illustrates how CSE responds to social needs with an interdisciplinary approach. Some people are born with or develop cognitive disorders that limit their ability to perform ordinary tasks of daily living, such as preparing meals or using public transportation. And these problems are growing. For example, in the next 50 years, the number of Alzheimer’s patients in the U.S. is projected to increase by threefold, from 5 million today to 15 million in 2050.
In describing the Assisted Cognition project, Kautz says,
“My colleagues and I believe that the combination of Artificial Intelligence and Ubiquitous Computing holds great promise for people with Alzheimer’s Disease, mental retardation, traumatic brain injury, and similar cognitive handicaps. Researchers are developing sensors and algorithms that can track users’ daily movements in their homes and communities, recognize when they are performing common activities of daily living, and detect unusual patterns of movement and activity that signal distress and the need for help. Such technology will help nursing homes, families, and employers provide security to patients or employees who suffer from cognitive disabilities by means of devices that provide warnings, prompts, or guidance when the user is lost or having difficulty performing a task.”
Major funding for the project comes from the National Institute for Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), in the form of a joint grant between CSE and the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine. This grant, entitled “ACCESS: Assisted Cognition in Community, Employment, and Support Settings” enables the two departments to work together to develop a personal guidance system that will help cognitively disabled individuals safely and effectively use public transportation. Dr. Kurt Johnson, the lead on the medical side, notes that problems in using public transit are a major cause of isolation and unemployment among people suffering from mild to moderate mental retardation. Such a personal guidance system will improve the quality of life of clients without the great cost and inconvenience of special point-to-point bus services.
Another focus area within the Assisted Cognition project are systems that help people with cognitive disabilities perform day to day activities within their own homes, so that they would not need to move to a nursing home or other medical facility. “A particular motivation for this kind of application is the need to help the baby-boomer generation ‘age in place’,” Kautz says. “My own family’s experience with Alzheimer’s Disease showed me that providing reminders and gentle corrections throughout the day can enable a person with early to middle stage AD perform most of the tasks they need for daily life – things such as dressing, housework, and hobbies. Since not every sufferer has a family member or other caregiver who can provide such assistance 24 hours a day, I started to think about how an AI (Artificial Intelligence) system could take over some of the burden.”
Integrating disciplines within Computer Science
Kautz’s scientific background is in an area of AI that focuses on methods for representing and reasoning about commonsense knowledge. When he began to think about creating computerized cognitive aids he quickly realized that the task would require expertise in many different areas of computer science. “The uniquely collaborative culture of UW CSE made it possible to turn the vision of Assisted Cognition into tangible research,” Kautz says. Professor Gaetano Borriello, one of the founders of the field of ubiquitous computing and an expert on small sensing devices, became a co-investigator on the NIDDR grant. Professor Dieter Fox, a robotics expert, realized that many of the techniques used for robot navigation in unknown environments could be applied to the problem of inferring the state of a person – that is, his or her location and the kind of activity being performed – from direct sensor data.
“Such integrated research is a two-way street,” Kautz says. “Not only does the application benefit from the insights of multiple perspectives, but the work can lead to fundamental advances in the individual disciplines as well.” For example, the motivating example of the Assisted Cognition personal guidance system led Fox, Kautz, and graduate student Lin Liao to develop a novel approach to learning hierarchical probabilistic models of human motion. This work received the 2004 Best Paper award at the prestigious National Conference of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence.
Immediate classroom benefits
As with the UrbanSim project, the use of ubiquitous sensing devices in the home or in public places raises ethical questions that faculty can discuss with their students. As they help people, these devices also could be viewed by some as instruments of surveillance. In a sense, the development of these devices brings the issues of privacy into the forefront where they can be examined in the classroom.
In addition to exposure to important issues, students begin to understand that computer science research is not just about hardware and software. We can imagine and create new ways in which computing positively transforms our very lives.
In the future, technology research will increasingly involve partnerships with private firms outside the University. For example, Intel is a very important partner in the Assisted Cognition project with the UW. As Kautz points out,
Intel is providing funding for the project through the Intel Research Council. Intel Seattle Research (IRC), located right in the University district, is working very closely with us. Many of our students are interning there over the summer, and we are jointly carrying out much of the technical work. Moreover, Intel has helped establish a national organization called the Center for Aging Services Technology (CAST), which is dedicated to bringing together researchers and practitioners in a wide variety of different disciplines and organizations.
Viewpoint of the team from Rehabilitation Medicine
Research Associate Mark Harniss and Research Scientist Pat Brown from the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine are leading the effort within ACCESS to determine how the devices should interact with users and caregivers in order to be acceptable and effective. In particular, Harniss and Brown point out that most of the disabled people who are potential users of the devices are their own guardians.
Given the importance of developing devices that increase the confidence and independence of users, Harniss and Brown are involved in a needs assessment and testing process that involves potential users and caregivers. For example, they are asking such questions as:
The importance of engaging the community in the definition and directions of the project led the ACCESS team to form an Advisory Board that includes parent representatives and members of the Washington State Divisions of Developmental Disabilities and Vocational Rehabilitation, the Washington State ARC (Advocates for the Rights of Citizens with Developmental Disabilities), and Columbia Legal Services.
Impact of project on students
Even though the Assisted Cognition Project and partnership between CSE and the Medical School are in the early stages of development, they are already having impacts on students who begin to envision their professional lives in light of work on the project.
For example, Don Patterson, a graduate student who works on the Assisted Cognition Project, illustrates how this project fits into his own philosophy of his professional responsibilities, and how it is preparing him to become a professor of Computer Science.
In the United States Navy, Patterson was able to use his life-long interest in computers to operate database software that runs the complex systems on ships. However, the Navy experience was also frustrating because there wasn’t the opportunity to improve the databases and because the project didn’t fulfill his strongest ambition as a computer scientist: “to improve the quality of life of people who are affected daily by computer systems.”
In the spring of 2004, Don worked with Lin Liao, fellow CSE graduate student Krzysztof Gajos, a group of CSE undergraduates, and their advisors Kautz and Fox to create a working prototype of a personal guidance system. The prototype, dubbed “Opportunity Knocks” because it alerted the user to possible danger by a knocking sound, was demonstrated to members of Congress at a special session of the national conference of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging (AAHSA) in Washington, DC. The user interface for Opportunity Knocks is a cell-phone that is equipped with GPS (global positioning system) and a color screen, as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Opportunity Knocks is a prototype personal guidance system designed to help people with cognitive disabilities use public transportation safely and effectively. This figure shows a series of screen shots of the cell-phone interface as the user (i) selects a desired destination, (ii) selects the desired mode of transportation, (iii) is alerted to the fact that he failed to get off the bus at the property stop (the message is accompanied by a sound alert), and (iv) is given new directions on how to get on back to his destination.
Summary of Assisted Cognition
As David Notkin, Chair of CSE, points out in the Introduction to this case study, CSE has “fluid interactions” with partner communities. In the case of the Assisted Cognition, students benefit directly when they work in the project that has interacts with the Medical School and industrial partners like Intel. They see partnerships formed within and without UW, develop synergy, and produce technology of great benefit to people. In short: collaborative projects like Assisted Cognition help train a generation of scientists dedicated to creating computing system that directly improve the quality of life of people from all sectors of society.
FOR MORE INFORMATION VISIT:
PHOTOGRAPHS OF PEOPLE FROM ASSISTED COGNITION PROJECT: