Out of Context:

A Course on Computer Systems That Adapt To, and Learn From, Context

MAS 963
Fall 2001

Henry Lieberman , Research Scientist
Ted Selker, Professor

Friday, 3:00-5:30
Room 335, Media Lab, 20 Ames St., Cambridge

Increasingly, we are realizing that to make computer systems more intelligent and responsive to users, we will have to make them more sensitive to context. Traditional hardware and software design overlooks context because it conceptualizes systems as input-output functions. Systems take input explicitly given to them by a human, act upon that input alone and produce explicit output. But this view is too restrictive. Smart computers, intelligent agent software, and digital devices of the future will also have to operate on data that they observe or gather for themselves. They may have to sense their environment, decide which aspects of a situation are really important, and infer the user's intention from concrete actions. The system's actions may be dependent on time, place, or the history of interaction. In other words, dependent upon context.

But what exactly is context? We'll look at perspectives from machine learning, sensors and embedded devices, information visualization, philosophy and psychology. We'll see how each treats the problem of context, and discuss the implications for design of context-sensitive hardware and software.

Course requirements will consist of critiques of class readings [about 3 papers/week], and a final project [paper or computer implementation project].

  • The Course Schedule and Readings (subject to change).
  • Some alternate readings

  • Henry and Ted's paper, "Out of Context", for the IBM Systems Journal, in HTML , or Word.
  • Ted and Win Burleson's paper, "Context-Aware Design ", For The Ibm Systems Journal, In Pdf .

  • The Course Bulletin Board (Course participants only, please. Not yet up for 2001.)

    Some lecture slides [From 2000 version of the course]

  • Slides for Henry's introductory lecture
  • Slides for Henry's lecture, "Context for Software Agents"
  • Slides for Henry's lecture, "Mathematical and Machine Learning Approaches to Context"

  • Sample student project: Cheese: Tracking Mouse Movements on Web Sites by Andrea Lockerd and Florian Mueller.
  • Sample student project: "What Was I Thinking " by Sunil Vemuri
  • Sample student project: "Context-Aware Office Assistant " by Hao Yan