Advisory Board

Dr. Justine Cassell

The ScienceDaily article Children With Autism May Learn From “Virtual Peers” said

Using “virtual peers” — animated life-sized children that simulate the behaviors and conversation of typically developing children — Northwestern University researchers are developing interventions designed to prepare children with autism for interactions with real-life children.
Justine Cassell, professor of communication studies and electrical engineering and computer science, recently presented a preliminary study on the work at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
“Children with high-functioning autism may be able to give you a lecture on a topic of great interest to them but they can’t carry on a ‘contingent’ — or two-way — conversation,” said Cassell, director of Northwestern’s Center for Technology and Social Behavior.

Justine Cassell, Ph.D. is the director of the new Center for Technology & Social Behavior, and a full professor in the departments of Communication Studies and Electrical Engineering & Computer Science at Northwestern University. She is also the graduate director of the new Technology and Social Behavior joint PhD in Communication and Computer Science. She previously held a tenured appointment at the MIT Media Lab where she directed the Gesture and Narrative Language Research Group.
She earned a master’s degree in Literature from the Université de Besançon (France), a master’s degree in Linguistics from the University of Edinburgh (Scotland), and a double Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, in Psychology and in Linguistics.
Justine’s research interests originated in the study of human-human conversation and storytelling. Progressively she became interested in allowing computational systems to participate in these activities. This new technological focus led her to deconstruct the linguistic elements of conversation and storytelling in such a way as to embody machines with conversational, social and narrative intelligence so that they could interact with humans in human-like ways. Increasingly, however, her research has come to address the impact and benefits of technologies such as these on learning and communication.
In particular, Justine is credited with developing the Embodied Conversational Agent (ECA), a virtual human capable of interacting with humans using both language and nonverbal behavior. More recently she has investigated the role that the ECA can play in children’s lives, as a Story Listening System (SLS): peer support for learning language and literacy skills. And she has also employed linguistic and psychological analyses to look at the effects of online conversation among a particularly diverse group of young people on their self-esteem, self-efficacy, and sense of community.
Once machines have human-like capabilities, can they be used to evoke the best communicative skills that humans are capable of, the richest learning? This is the goal of her research: to develop technologies that evoke from humans the most human and humane of our capabilities, and to study their effects on our evolving world.
Justine coedited Embodied Conversational Agents, From Barbie® to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games, and Gesture and the Dynamic Dimension of Language: Essays in Honor of David McNeill, and coauthored From Quake Grrls to Desperate Housewives: A Decade of Gender and Computer Games, Playing with Virtual Peers: Bootstrapping Contingent Discourse in Children with Autism, Is it Self-Administration if the Computer Gives you Encouraging Looks?, “Hi Tech or High Risk? Moral Panics about Girls Online, and Trading Spaces: How Humans and Humanoids use Speech and Gesture to Give Directions. Read the full list of her publications.
Learn about her activism! Read GirlGeek of the Week and Frontiers Profile: Justine Cassell. Read some Justine quotes.