Applied Computational Intelligence Lab

An exciting new course where you will learn how to build smart things

Alan Black, Anatole Gershman

Can you make that picture on your wall aware that you are standing in front of it? What would an "intelligent" picture do? What if it could hear you and talk to you? What should it say? What if your pantry, wardrobe or medicine cabinet could sense, think and act? What should they do and say? What should your cell phone be saying to you? These are not whimsical or theoretical questions – they inevitably arise as ordinary everyday objects around us acquire the ability to sense changes in their environment, think about their implications, and act in pursuit of their goals. These objects are connected to the web and become conduits for services, erasing the distinction between products and services. The ability to invent, design and build smart products/services is becoming a key skill in the new technology-driven services economy.

This year, we focus on building virtual avatars that can sense, think and act in a virtual world as well as communicate with real people using speech and gestures (using Kinnect or Wii). For example, you may create a smart virtual dog helping you win a game in a Second Life-like environment. Students will select their own group project and by the end of the semester will create a working prototype. Best projects will be nominated for the Smiley Award (in 2008 two of the class projects were nominated and one received the runner-up award).

In the course of their projects, students will learn how to use state-of-the-art tools for:

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      Object detection using video cameras, microphones and other sensors

      Movement and gesture detection

      Speech recognition and generation

      Reasoning and planning


While the course organizers have many ideas for specific projects, students will be encouraged to design their own projects with supervision, mentoring and the necessary tools and equipment provided by the faculty members. Students are expected to work in small groups on their own time and receive faculty advice as needed. There will be weekly meetings of the whole class. Students will get 9 credits for the course.

The course gives an opportunity to apply knowledge and skills students have acquired in specialized foundational courses to the creation of futuristic objects/services that raise many interesting and even disturbing questions about the world we are going to live in.