navigating how we think PROFESSOR JANET WILES’ RESEARCH IS CONCERNED WITH THINKING SYSTEMS AND THEIR POTENTIAL APPLICATIONS IN HEALTH AND OTHER INDUSTRIES. A PROFESSOR AT UQ’S SCHOOL OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND ELECTRICAL ENGINEERING, PROFESSOR WILES AND HER CROSS-DISCIPLINARY TEAM ARE WORKING TO ESTABLISH A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF THE NEURAL AND BEHAVIOURAL BASES OF THINKING SYSTEMS.
YOUR RESEARCH ABOUT? ?IWHAT’S use computational modelling and visual analytics to investigate complex systems in biology, neuroscience and cognition. In collaboration with information systems and engineering colleagues, insights from such systems have then been applied to the development of novel technologies. One project develops robots that can learn natural language skills. Another project, Thinking Systems, involves understanding navigation. A third project uses information visualisations to make sense of complex hospital data.
DOES YOUR THINKING SYSTEMS ? WHAT RESEARCH FOCUS ON? Thinking Systems researchers study fundamental issues of navigation in animals and robots, including how information is transmitted, received, processed and understood. The crossdisciplinary team spans engineering, biological and social disciplines and has been funded for five years by an Australian
Research Council $3.3 million Special Research Initiative. One of the interesting things about navigation is that people don’t just navigate physical space: We also use metaphors for navigation to make sense out of the complex world of ideas, a process we call conceptual navigation. We’ve been developing a rat-sized robot called the iRat designed to complete similar lab tasks to real rats in neuroscience studies.
IS THE WIDER APPLICATION OF ? WHAT YOUR RESEARCH? The tools and techniques developed to study real-world complex systems find use in surprising and diverse applications such as health care, teaching and learning, science communication and emergency management. For example, studies of the complex dynamics of neural networks provide insights into both normal and abnormal brain dynamics, which could lead to better treatments for neurological conditions. Technologies developed to visualise how a conversation follows a path through concept spaces could lead to training programs for better communication skills in emergencies.
<< we’ve been
developing a rat-sized robot called the iRat
IS YOUR RESEARCH HAVING AN ? HOW IMPACT? The biggest impact is undoubtedly on a generation of postdocs and students with skills in research areas that bridge technology and biology. Robots intrigue people. We videoed one of the Lingodroids’ early conversations using DTMF (mobile phone tones) and put it on YouTube. In May this year it went viral on social media and was viewed more than 50,000 times within a month (http://goo.gl/btj3S). The iRat – our robot rat – is being used to study how new brain cells integrate into neural networks during learning. The iRat was recently the highlight of a local primary school visit which was filmed for a National Science Week video (http://goo. gl/ex2iE). Discursis – a conversation analysis tool which grew out of concept navigation studies – is currently being used to analyse medical consultations and interaction patterns of children with autism. It is also being used to study science communication in the media and critical incident communication during airline emergencies.
TO NEXT? ?MyWHERE theoretical work will continue the investigation of spatial and temporal issues in real world complex systems. Discursis, iRats and Lingodroids are leaving the lab and entering the world. A commercial quality version of Discursis is currently under development for release in 2012. The next generation of Lingodroid studies will create more complex concepts so they can communicate when (as well as where) things happen. I see cross-fertilisation continuing to grow between biology and technology and new approaches to thinking systems will develop with it
INGENUITY ISSUE 1, 2011
UQ Ingenuity Magazine - For graduates, alumni, industry and studentsof Engineering at The University of Queensland.