Computer Scientist Receives Fulbright Research Fellowship

Originally published September 28, 2015

Nigel Ward, Ph.D., a computer science professor at The University of Texas at El Paso, has been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to conduct research at Kyoto University in Japan for two semesters.

Ward will be working with Tatsuya Kawahara, Ph.D., a professor at Kyoto University who specializes in human-computer interaction and artificial intelligence. The two will study patterns of stress and intonation in human dialogue. Ward will particularly focus on building models of the ways that people communicate beyond words through patterns in pitch, intensity, timing and tone of voice.

Nigel Ward, Ph.D.
Nigel Ward, Ph.D.

“I love teaching, but I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to be a full-time researcher for a year to really make some progress,” Ward said. “The challenge here is that these human behaviors happen so fast, over a few hundreds of milliseconds, and the patterns are below the level of conscious attention, so we need to develop methods to discover these patterns automatically from dialogue data.”

While researching in Japan, Ward will apply these patterns to improve human-robot interaction. Ward points to “Erica the Android” as an example of the potential of his research. Researchers are developing Erica to have completely natural conversations with people in the future.

Ward added that these same vocal patterns he’ll be studying could help low-resource languages — languages that are less studied or spoken — by improving the quality and understanding of audio recording of the languages.

Ward’s Fulbright Scholarship in Japan runs from July 2015 to March 2016.