Gregory Abowd – Ignorance is Bliss: A career retrospective (hybrid event)

The next BostonCHI meeting is Gregory Abowd – Ignorance is Bliss: A career retrospective (hybrid event) on Tue, Jun 13 at 5:30 PM.

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BostonCHI Hybrid Event featuring Gregory Abowd, June 2023


In 1988, as a graduate student grappling to find a research identity, I accidentally discovered the field of HCI. Over the past 35 years, a passion for applying the tools and techniques of computing to uncover how the human experience with technology can be understood and transformed. That leap into HCI was just the first of a number of leaps of faith. My career has been a series of shifting research agendas, each one inspired by some life events. In all cases, I was buoyed by a bevy of talented and supportive colleagues, advisors and advisees alike, who gave me the courage to jump into a research topic that I didn’t know much about. That “ignorance” has allowed me to be more fearless than I had the right to be. In this talk, I will reflect on my professional journey, hoping to inspire others to dispel fear of the unknown and unlock their potential. Life, like research, is best when shared with others whom you can respect and befriend.

About Gregory Abowd

Gregory Abowd is a world leader in the invention and application of ubiquitous computing technologies. His work has defined the field over the past three decades, and his intellectual contributions have shaped two major themes in ubiquitous computing: context-aware computing and automated capture and access of live experiences. He has shown how a variety of application areas—the classroom, the home, autism, and health care—benefit from innovations in mobile and ubiquitous technologies. Two particularly trailblazing projects, Classroom 2000 and the Aware Home, demonstrated “living laboratories” to advance technological advancements as well as understanding the impact when those technologies are woven into everyday life. He is the most highly cited researcher in ubiquitous computing in the world, with over 60,000 citations. Nine papers alone have each been cited over 1000 times; four papers have won either 10- or 20-year impact awards. After 26.5 years serving on the faculty at Georgia Tech, Gregory moved to become Dean of Engineering at Northeastern University in March 2021. He still maintains an active research career, with his most recent efforts on computational sustainability and the Internet of Materials influencing a new generation of students and researchers.

Gregory’s leadership to the research community cemented ubiquitous computing as a core topic in HCI research. He hosted UbiComp 2001 in Atlanta, rebranding and establishing it as the premier forum in the area. He served on the founding editorial board for IEEE Pervasive Computing Magazine and was the co-founding Editor-in-Chief of Foundations and Trends in HCI. In the mid 2010’s created the Proceedings of the ACM in Interaction, Mobile, Wearable, and Ubiquitous Technologies (IMWUT), serving as the Founding Editor-in-Chief. This journal was a bold, and ultimately successful experiment to merge the best practices of conference and journal reviewing.Its success has served as a model for other HCI and CS communities.

Beyond the impact of his publications, his research has resulted in public-domain software toolkits and commercial solutions in the home and health sectors. As the parent of two sons on the autism spectrum, Gregory initiated a research program in technologies to support this neurodiverse population, resulting in several commercial products. In the process, he started a non-profit, the Atlanta Autism Consortium, that connects stakeholder communities across research, clinical practice, education, and families, and he was recognized by the State of Georgia for his efforts in establishing that organization.

Gregory is arguably one of the most influential HCI educators in the world. He is co-author of the first proper textbook on Human-Computer Interaction, first published in 1994. He earned several awards for teaching effectiveness and the innovative use of technology in the classroom, but it is his unrivaled success as a research mentor that separates him. He has graduated 35 PhD students and advised countless masters and undergraduate students who have gone on to stellar research careers. More than two-thirds of his PhD students have gone onto academic careers, and his academic family numbers over 250. Many of those former students are themselves well known in the field and have assumed roles of research and administrative leadership, without a doubt his greatest impact as an educator and researcher.

Gregory has been recognized by ACM as a Fellow, a member of the SIGCHI Academy, recipient of the SIGCHI Social Impact Award, and the ACM Eugene Lawler Humanitarian Award.

Ravi Karkar: Measuring Health – From Tools, to Data, to Value

The next BostonCHI meeting is Ravi Karkar: Measuring Health – From Tools, to Data, to Value on Tue, May 16 at 6:45 PM.

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BostonCHI May 2023


The ongoing boom in personal health technologies offers new potential to support people in collecting and interpreting data about their own health and well-being. However, there is a mismatch between what technology currently delivers (e.g., step counts, sleep scores) versus what people expect from it (i.e., personal health insights and recommendations).

Current technologies fall short of their potential due to complex and interrelated challenges (e.g., in meeting personal needs, in data quality, in their integration into clinical practice). A holistic approach is therefore necessary, focusing on end-to-end design that understands the individual, their environments, and their contexts.

My research focuses on human-centered approaches to collecting, interacting with, and using novel health data toward improving human well-being through personalized insights and recommendations.

I explore this in two major thrusts of research: (1) I build specialized tools to enable people living with chronic conditions to better leverage their personal health data in understanding and managing their health; and (2) Through the process of creating and studying such tools, I systematize frameworks and design recommendations to assist future developers in designing personal health tools.

About Ravi Karkar

My research focuses on designing, developing, and evaluating tools that can enable people to gather data and interpret personal aspects of their medical condition in the context of their day-to-day lives. Specifically, I focus on opportunities for individualized interventions that can be more effective and appropriate than one-size-fits-all population-based interventions.

I collaborate closely with clinical researchers to build targeted tools to support patients in better understanding and managing chronic conditions. I have also contributed a domain agnostic framework and approaches toward better design of personal health technologies. An overarching theme across the tools that I build is a focus on translating the research — taking the research from lab-studies into the hands of the individuals who need it.

Reenvisioning Surveillance Infrastructure through Design and Photovoice

The next BostonCHI meeting is Reenvisioning Surveillance Infrastructure through Design and Photovoice on Tue, Apr 11 at 6:45 PM.

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BostonCHI April 2023


Moving toward equitable, inclusive, and sustainable futures requires new and evolved approaches to conducting human-computer interaction research.

This requires that we, as academics, practitioners, and policymakers take on more community-engaged approaches to our work and tap into unheard populations who remain voiceless in popular and academic discourses. Such voices offer brilliant insights into technology’s potential, ethics, and future.

This study draws from two such cases, one speculative design study and a photovoice study in collaboration with two Detroit community organizations. Through these two cases, we unpack how we engage communities in reenvisioning technological infrastructure, particularly our safety infrastructures. In this talk, we will discuss the theoretical and methodological implications of redesigning and rethinking surveillance infrastructure when considering their voices.


Tawanna Dillahunt

Tawanna Dillahunt is the 2022–2023 William Bentinck-Smith Fellow at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute and an associate professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Information and holds a courtesy appointment with the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department. She leads the Social Innovations Group (SIG), an interdisciplinary group of individuals whose vision is to design, build, and enhance technologies to solve real-world problems affecting marginalized groups and individuals primarily in the U.S. Her current projects aim to address unemployment, environmental sustainability, and technical literacy by fostering social and socio-technical capital within these communities. At Radcliffe, she is working to explore and raise the visibility of alternative economic futures for Black and Brown Detroiters.

Tawanna is an ACM Distinguished Member and an inaugural Skip Ellis Early Career Award recipient. She holds an M.S. and Ph.D. in Human-Computer Interaction from Carnegie Mellon University, an M.S. in Computer Science from the Oregon Health and Science University, and a B.S. in Computer Engineering from North Carolina State University. She was also a software engineer in Intel Corporation’s Desktop Board and LAN Access Divisions for several years.

Alex Jiahong Lu

Alex Lu is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan’s School of Information. Alex’s past work looks into how data-driven surveillance infrastructures come into being and their harms in varied sociopolitical contexts on different scales, particularly policing surveillance in the city of Detroit, behavior management in the classroom setting, and ideology control in China. Working alongside two communities in Eastside Detroit, his dissertation examines the history and imaginaries of surveillance infrastructures in Detroit through an affective lens. Through arts- and community-based participatory approaches, he is working with residents to make their everyday negotiation with surveillance infrastructures visible and envision alternative sociotechnical infrastructures for preferable futures.

Alex holds an MSW degree from the University of Michigan School of Social Work and a B.E. in Information Engineering and Media from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Alex worked with Meta’s Community Growth Team as a UX researcher intern last summer, and he will be on the job market next year for both academic and industry positions.

The Human Side of Tech