Human-centred computing helps people thrive

As innovative emerging technologies transform our world, Associate Professor Marc Adam is helping to keep people’s interests, needs and experiences at the front and centre of new computing systems.

Marc Adam smiling in front of camera, wearing glasses and blue collared polo shirt, blonde hair

How can technology help people live, work, and learn to their full potential? In his interdisciplinary research, Associate Professor Marc Adam breaks down the barriers between humans and computers to discover how information technology can be designed in a way that engages, excites, and empowers people to achieve their goals.

“Interacting with technology has become a ubiquitous component in our daily lives,” says Marc. “At the same time, changes in technology are happening at a rapid pace.”

“By designing systems in a way that considers human cognitive, emotional, and behavioural processes, we can make sure that technology better integrates with people’s daily routines and supports them in their tasks.”

Marc applies this people-first approach to both research and teaching. In 2020, he was an inaugural recipient of a DVC(A) Merit List Award for Teaching and Learning Excellence. His teaching mantra is to demonstrate real-world applicability, inspiring students to see the potential of computing and information technology to improve people’s everyday lives.

“Mentoring the next generation of researchers is an important part of being an academic. It makes me proud to see the growth of how our PhD students during their candidature and to be able to support them in taking their research to the next level.”

Putting people first

Human-centred computing research starts with understanding human emotions and behaviour. Marc’s research examines exactly how people interact with technology: their frustrations, needs and goals. For example, are different emotional states triggered by different user interface designs? The information uncovered can then be used as a springboard for devising better systems.

“In order to capture these interactions and processes holistically, we use a range of methods such as eye tracking, interviews, and questionnaires. Further, we also employ mobile sensors such as cameras and movement sensors to unobtrusively detect user states.”

Marc’s research brings together different bodies of knowledge in creative new ways, and actively engages in interdisciplinary collaborations with experts across business, health, and psychology to adequately capture varying perspectives.

Marc was also one of the first researchers to apply neurophysiological measurements in information systems research, particularly in e-commerce. Due to his standing in the field, Marc became one of 20 international founding members of the NeuroIS Society, a premier academic organisation for scientists and professionals working at the nexus of information systems and neuroscience research and development.

“It is our goal to support basic and applied research that furthers our understanding of human cognition and affect in human-computer interaction. Thereby, a strong focus lies on the application of methods, theories, and tools from neuroscience to information systems research. For example, eye tracking and heart rate.

“This enables us to address fundamental societal questions that arise from the rapid proliferation and ubiquity of information technology in society. For example, mHealth systems for health behaviour change.”

Real-world outcomes

Marc’s work is focused on creating real-world change, and has resulted in innovative applications. In collaboration with leading researchers in dietetics and nutrition, Marc was involved in creating the No Money, No Time website, which connects busy young adults with research-based dietary advice and, via the Healthy Eating Quiz, allows them to assess and improve their eating habits.

For the interdisciplinary VISIDA project, Marc helped to design a video-based detection system that monitored people’s eating behaviours with the intention of passively detecting food intake and supporting new dietary recommendations. The design and evaluation of this system were published in the IEEE Journal of Biomedical and Health Informatics. Prior to the project, using spherical video to detect food intake had rarely been attempted.

“The system uses a 360-camera positioned in the centre of a table that automatically tracks the hand-to-mouth movements of the people around it. The project highlighted how deep learning architectures could successfully improve video as a diet-monitoring tool.”

Along with the field of nutrition, Marc has published widely in the areas of e-commerce, information systems and more, and has received support from prestigious institutions such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, German Research Foundation, and nib Foundation. His work continues to garner cross-industry attention and applause for its almost limitless potential to improve human-computer interactions.

“Systems development often puts a strong focus on technical aspects without considering the essential human factors. Understanding how people interact with technology deserves closer attention, and it’s exciting to see where this research could take us.”

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