People of ACM - Lynda Hardman

August 23, 2016

You were a collaborator on LinkedTV, an EU project that sought to create a seamless interlinking of the web and TV so that viewers could easily follow hyperlinks from video content to related web content. Based on your experiences with LinkedTV, what do you see as the benefits of integrating TV and the web? With technological advances and a rapidly evolving landscape, how will television viewing be different 10 years from now?

The great thing about TV is that it can be a shared experience. The great thing about the web is that you can find so much information out there—so much, in fact, that it would be nice to be hooked into it the right way—like a friend, or your mom, commenting on what you're watching. By analyzing events in news and understanding what types of information people are interested in, we are able to offer interesting links to users. Ten years from now is a long time on the web and the broadcasting world. We are interested in each other (e.g., through social media), what is going on in the world, and we also want to be entertained. TV will become more and more a portal to content on the web, with more choice for what, when and how we interact with it, our friends and family. I'm interested in increasing the utility of that experience—for example, how can we decide whether shale gas drilling is a good (economic benefit) or a bad idea (environmental impact). We should be able to explore different sources of information, discuss it with our (online) friends and come to our own conclusions.

One of your key research interests has been finding ways to enhance the human exploration of information. You recently said a goal would be to develop computers that understand humans. Where do you see promising research that might yield breakthroughs in this area?

I am interested in how we consume information and how we communicate with each other. Even in answering these questions, I am obeying cultural rules. I want to understand what these (sometimes seemingly invisible) rules are when, say, watching video sequences. When we watch a human-created film, it makes sense to us and we build up a story as we watch. I would like to turn this around and generate sequences that people perceive as coherent and make sense. Students going to film school are taught how to do this. By combining knowledge of what people want to know (think of Linked Data) and how we communicate (think of Grice's maxims and film montage), we can provide information in a more useful way.

You have remarked that the work that game developers do, in many ways, aligns with your research. Will you explain the commonalities?

Within a game there is an underlying storyline and, while taking part in the story, there will be moments of tension. We can provide music that illustrates this. The music can be pre-selected by the game's creators, but if we know which music the user likes to listen to, we can select "tense" music from their own collection. The research is about when "tension," "fear" or "joy" can be communicated by the visuals and/or the music.

You recently recalled that, when you were a young researcher at the University of Edinburgh, you were disappointed that more women were not studying Informatics and Artificial Intelligence, because they are fascinating subjects. What misconceptions do many women have about Informatics, and how can those misconceptions be overcome?

The media plays a huge role in gender stereotyping, often leading young women to believe that they need to be guys to be good at computing and to enjoy it. To attract more young women to these disciplines, they need to understand how they really have an effect on society. Having role models of women in the field is also a great way of encouraging girls. Speed-dates with girls at school allow them to see that computing doesn't have to turn you into a caffeine-consuming code-aholic, who doesn't know how to sort out his wardrobe. At the moment we have a Catch-22 situation, where there are very few female role models for girls to identify with, so that they tend not to go into computing, and so we don't have many role models.

I'm happy to say that more awareness is developing and that even mainstream media are beginning to portray positive role models of the "techie heroine."


Lynda Hardman is a member of the management team at the Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica in Amsterdam, as well as a part-time professor of Multimedia Discourse Interaction at Utrecht University. Her current research includes creating linked, data-driven, user-centric applications for exploring media content and investigating user-centric interaction design in the context of developing technologies. In recognition of her professional contributions, she was named an ACM Distinguished Scientist.

Hardman is the current president of Informatics Europe, an association of computer science departments and research laboratories in Europe and neighboring areas. She is also a member of the Advisory Committee of ACM-W Europe. In both her university roles and her leadership of Informatics Europe, she has been a steadfast advocate of increasing the representation of women in computing and informatics.

As an example of her work in this area, she will be a keynote speaker at the upcoming womENcourage 2016: A Celebration of Women in Computing in Linz, Austria, September 12 to 13. Sponsored by ACM-W Europe, the conference is tailored to encouraging young women, including students at all levels, researchers and early practitioners.