The Joking Computer
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Judith Masthoff


I come from the Netherlands. When I was growing up, computers were still very scarce. About two years before I finished secondary school, they got their first computers. I liked learning to program, thought maybe I could make my own computer game. I considered studying French or Mathematics, but ended up doing Computing and liking it.

I have worked on many different topics and lived in quite different places.

In 1992, I started as a PhD student (a scientist in training) in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. I developed an artificial teacher: a computer program that could teach and adapt its teaching to individual learners. My supervisors were psychologists, and I did a lot of studies to see how people learned. After my PhD, I worked for a bit on technology for helping elderly people to remain independent.

In 1997, my husband got a job in Brighton, England. Luckily, I had no difficulty finding a job as well. As a computer scientist you can work anywhere!

I worked for Philips Electronics' UK research lab, near Gatwick. I mainly worked on medical projects, on technology to help nurses and doctors (radiologists and cardiologists).

In 2001, I moved to a lecturing job in the University of Brighton. My research changed to interactive television, in particular how to personalise the TV experience for a group of people watching together. I also worked on computers that prove mathematical statements.

Brighton pavilion

Dunnotar castle in snow

In 2004, we moved from the south coast of England to the north of Scotland. Computing Science at the University of Aberdeen specialises in Artificial Intelligence, my area of research. I have continued my research on systems that automatically adapt to people.

My PhD students come from all over the world (Vietnam, Pakistan, Sweden, Scotland, etc). With Hien Nguyen, I am working on so-called Persuasive Technology: technology that tries to change people's behaviour, for example getting them to exercise more. With Nava Tintarev, I have worked on explaining to somebody why they may (dis)like a movie based on what the system has learned about them. Nava is now working for Spanish company Telefonica. With Wendy Moncur, I am working on providing computer-mediated support for parents of babies in intensive care. I am also co-leading the Computing Science department.

My job is exciting, it never gets boring or repetitive. There are always new problems to solve. I like inventing things. Eleven patents applications were filed for my work.

I like working with people in other disciplines. Computer scientists get to learn about a lot of different things. For example, I have visited many hospitals, spoken to doctors, watched patients being treated.

I regularly go to meetings with scientists from all over the world. Most recently, I have been in Oulu (Finland), at Microsoft near San Francisco, and Trento (Italy). I have just returned from a conference in Hawaii...


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