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RH wearing and EyeLink III'm a cognitive scientist (the dark-side of psychology) based at the University of Edinburgh in the Institute for Language, Cognition and Computation, and the Human Communication Research Centre, specialising in Human-Machine Interaction (robots, virtual agents, computer interfaces), multimodal communication and technology use for the older population. This covers a range of psychological aspects, including social interaction and cognition, audio-visual perception, communication, language processing, joint action and ageing (young and old). A substantial amount of my life is spent analysing people’s eye movements while they read, interact with technology, or engage in dialogue and co-operative actions. The purpose? To unravel the mysteries of human cognition while simultaneously improving the efficiency, interfaces and design of computer systems. There is little chance of me having to retire early.

The Harmonium Project (design by 59 Productions)Currently I'm spending a lot of time on the Harmonium Project for the grand opening of this year's Edinburgh International Festival. Working with 59 Productions, I'm gathering data from members of the Festival Chorus while they are singing (eye-tracking, EEG, heart rate and motion) which will be visualised and projected onto the outside of the Usher Hall during the performance of John Adams's Harmonium. I'm also collaborating with the Aberdeen Biomedical Imaging Centre and the Centre for Rural Health (Aberdeen University but based in Inverness) to investigate the links between use of Information Technology and cognitive reserve in older adults (using the 1936 Aberdeen Birth Cohort). And hopefully I'll soon be entering the world of neuro-politics, working with Laura Cram (Professor of European Politics) to examine implicit and explicit attitudes towards the European Union during the run up to the referendum on membership.

Manuel at workMain multinational and multidisciplinary projects include generating and analysing real-world navigation dialogues between a human and a virtual guide via a mobile phone app (SPACEBOOK) and the cognitive modelling and analysis of professional translators (CASMACAT). Past projects include investigating cooperative joint action and multimodal communication for Human-Robot Interaction (JAST); over in Psychology I worked on Dynamic Images and Eye Movements (DIEM), the aim of which was to model visual attention over moving, real-world stimuli. Acronyms are a big part of research (or getting funding anyway). Recently I've become interested in (cyber) security, particularly "usable" security and human factors. The old adage about the human being the weakest link in any security system remains true. For me, this combines issues of basic Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) design, human memory and attention, along with establishing trust, comfort and confidence. Plus, of course, the flip-side: how to prevent trust, comfort and confidence from being exploited/abused (i.e. risk assessment in a digital environment). This is especially true for the youngest technology adopters/users and ties in with the interest of the Learning and Adaptive Environments Research Lab (LAERLab).

Photograph by Douglas RobertsonWith experience of working for psychology and computing departments at both Edinburgh and Dundee, I'm used to working on multidisciplinary projects, as well as teaching courses and supervising students in psychology, computing, linguistics, business studies and art/design. I’ve organised international conferences, co-edited the book “Eye Movements: A Window on Mind and Brain” and try to find time to write up as much of my research as possible. As well as being involved in several multinational EU projects, I have previously been funded by the Leverhulme Trust, the ESRC, IBM and have collaborated with Fujitsu. For my sins, I remain the Lab Supervisor for the Joint Eye-tracking Laboratory in the basement of the Informatics Forum and have had some fun with conductive gel (having helped set up a combined BioSemi EEG and EyeLink eye-tracking facility in the Electrophysiology Suite next door).

Academic qualifications:

B.Sc. (Hons) Logic & Philosophy of Science – Statistics
M.Phil. Cognitive Science
Ph.D. Psychology
Binge researching (defined by Arnt Lykke Jakobsen in his exaugural), cynicism, poverty and self-abuse.

Academic Link / Quote of the moment:

"ICTs [information and communication technologies] are great in making information available; they are less successful in making it accessible, and even less so in making it usable."

Floridi, Luciano (2013). E-ducation and the languages of information. Philosophy & Technology, 26(3), 247-251. doi: 10.1007/s13347-013-0124-9.

An example of how technology accessibility can lead to non-native language preference despite cultural differences. How Georgians have abandoned their (vigesimal) number system in favour of Russian - at least for mobile phone numbers:

Sherouse, Perry (2014). Hazardous digits: Telephone keypads and Russian numbers in Tbilisi, Georgia. Language & Communication, 37, 1-11. doi: 10.1016/j.langcom.2014.03.001.

A window into the future

Well, this is perhaps stretching the concept of Human Robot Interaction a bit far, and it doesn't even involve language, but it is a nicely produced video demonstrating human and robot sword skills, so what's not to like?