Some thoughts on the NordiCHI 2016 conference

I’m now on the train which till take me back to Stockholm, after five very rewarding days at the NordiCHI conference hosted by Chalmers. I arrived in Gothenburg already Saturday evening 22/10, since I attended a full day workshop during the Sunday which I wrote about in an earlier post. The main conference took place Tuesday – Thursday (today). Overall, it was a very well organized conference both when it comes to the paper and poster sessions and the social events. I have no intention of summing up all the parts of the conference here, but rather add some remarks about the conference as a whole. I hope this post will be clear enough, despite the fact that I managed to catch a cold during the conference dinner…

One thing that was unusual with this version of NordiCHI was that the proceedings were not handed out in a printed book. The proceedings will only be accessible online and published in the ACM digital library. I think this is was a very good idea since I guess those printed books that are usually handed out are not used much after the conference (only a few papers are relevant for each specific participant). Having the proceedings online is a much more sustainable solution.

Following the same theme, this was also the first conference I attended where the participants did not get one of those cute little bags which usually include paper, pens, proceedings, information and possibly one of those “stress balls”. There were instead stacks of folders with information which participants could pick from and place in their own bags (it’s quite unusual that participants will not show up with their own bags). Again, this is something I really liked – everyone could pick what they really needed and in that way the organizers did not need to give one version of everything to each participant. And how many uses the stress ball anyway?

The sessions (at least the ones a attended myself) were well organized and with very few exceptions the session chairs did a very good job of switching between presenters and keeping time. When it comes to overall organization I especially enjoyed the very last session about sustainability and wellness, where Jan Gulliksen was the chair. He took that role very seriously and after most of the presentations he gave his own general comment (often bringing in a slightly different context than the one the presenter used) before opening up for questions. The questions prepared in advance were also of a very high quality. This is an example that every chair should take after!

The social events, and then especially the conference dinner, were very well prepared. The food was of high quality and a music performance given by an old master’s student, based on home-made instruments, was extraordinary! Of all conference dinners I have been to during my years as a researcher this one definitely takes the first price. The get together at Kuggen was also well organized, but it was a shame there was a lot of construction work going on in the building during the conference.

The only thing I had a problem with during the conference were the length of the lunch breaks – they were 1.5 hours long. Since the food, which was of good quality, was served just outside the main lecture hall, there was almost one hour of waiting before the first afternoon session started. There were of course posters to look at, demos to try out and many people to talk to during this time, but an entire hour seemed quite a lot especially since it is possible to look at the posters also during the shorter coffee breaks.

These were just some remarks on NordiCHI 2016 as a whole. More details can be found on the conference site: I hope I will be able to attend the next version of the conference in Oslo 2018 and that it will be just as well organized as the one I just attended in Gothenburg!

DOME · eHealth · Medical Records Online

My first workshop contribution from a patient’s perspective!


Yesterday I participated in a full day workshop, organized by members from the DOME consortium, at NordiCHI (the organizers are presented here). The name of the workshop was: “Designing E-Health Services For Patients & Relatives – Critical Incidents and Lessons to Learn” and I mentioned it briefly in my previous post. I want to point out that I will only focus on my own contribution and the work process here. All presentations held during the workshop were very interesting and interested readers can find all position papers here.


My contribution

I contributed to this workshop mostly as a patient, since I wanted to take the chance to bring a real life experience into the discussion at the workshop. This is an excerpt from the scenario my workshop contribution was based on:

“Back in 2006 I was diagnosed with a rheumatic disease and a few years later in 2009 I got a treatment that has worked fairly well ever since. The disease I have is auto-immune which means that the immune system attacks healthy tissue causing inflammations. The medication I take lowers the immune system to counteract this. A side effect of this particular medication is that it is easier to get sick and that it takes longer time than usual to get well after an infection.


In the beginning of the last week of June 2009, I went to one of my quarterly checkups mostly to make sure that everything was fine, and four days later I should attend a conference in Portugal. I felt fine, so I saw really no reason to call the hospital and ask for the results from the blood tests (which I always do if I’m not at good health when the tests are performed). One day before the journey to Portugal my doctor called me during the usual calling hours and let me know that more tests were needed since the immune system was at an unusually low level – obviously due to the medication I take. I then asked if it was advisable that I travelled to Portugal for the conference. The response I got both scared me and caught me by surprise – I should definitely not travel anywhere until new tests had been evaluated.”

My presentation during the workshop and the poster were both centered around two basic problems. The first one was the health issue – I was feeling fine the entire week on which the scenario was based and had no idea I was in any danger until the doctor called. The effects could have been detrimental if the doctor had called after I had left for the conference and I used this fact to make a case for easily accessible electronic health records. The other problem I focused on was more about the research on eHealth services and then especially patient accessible electronic health records. There are a lot of papers out there that focus on problems that physicians see with the system and recently papers have also covered studies on patients and their use of eHealth services. There are, however, still few research contributions made by patients and there are even fewer contributions that focus on the effects of not having access to electronic health records.

I felt that my contribution was well received and it seemed like the patient contribution added a unique aspect to the workshop – something that was pointed out at several occasions. An interesting idea that was brought up by one of the other workshop participants was to develop some kind of alert system that could warn a patient when a test result is way above or below the normal interval. Another idea was that patients taking immunosuppressive medication, which can put patients in danger without them ever realizing it, could use a device to draw minimal amounts of blood themselves in order to check the blood status.  The entire position paper can be found here.


The workshop

The workshop was very well organized and everyone was active during the entire event. This is the first workshop I have been to that used posters for the presentations of the position papers. Most other conference workshops I have been to have used Powerpoint as the presentation medium and that can get quite tiresome after a while. Using posters was a very good idea, since active participation could then be promoted. In this particular case the presentation format enabled the possibility to add post-it notes to the posters.

During each presentation the other participants had four stacks of post-it notes (each in a different color) in front of them. On these post-its they should add comments related to the areas “Enablers”, “Barriers”, “Learning opportunities” and “Other” respectively. After the presentation the post-it notes were placed on the poster. The image above shows the status of three of the posters after the presentation rounds. This format forced everyone to remain active during each presentation.

In a later phase of the workshop the participants split into two groups focusing on their own set of posters. Each group should pick post-it notes from the respective posters and formulate design implications for future eHealth services based on these notes. This also promoted active participation and most of all discussion since the implications formulated should be based on a joint decision.

Overall the workshop was a success and the quite novel format with posters really worked both since they promoted active participation and since the posters served as shared reference points during the entire event. From the discussion at the end it is obvious that everyone else were of the same opinion and that everyone believed that it was a good idea to work with critical incidents in this way to inform design. The concluding discussion also brought up the possibility to work together in the future, for example in publishing activities, and I really hope that we will get the chance to do that!


DOME · eHealth · Medical Records Online

A week filled with eHealth-related activities!

A few hours ago I arrived in Gothenburg for the NordiCHI 2016 conference and spent a little blog time on the train to catch up on the latest week’s activities. This week has really been all about eHealth. Among other things I got the chance to meet almost all other researchers being part of the DOME consortium!


The DOME meeting

During Wednesday and Thursday the week I took part in the DOME meeting (held twice a year), where almost all researchers within the DOME consortium participated. This was a very good opportunity for me to get to know everyone in the group. I felt really welcome and I’m very sure that I will enjoy my time within this consortium (which I hope can continue, at least part time, even after my postdoc period)!

The first day of the meeting included one presentation of a survey study and discussions about ongoing studies and other activities. After this meeting day most of the participants also joined to celebrate no less than three awarded grants (!) and to have dinner at a restaurant in Uppsala. The second day mostly consisted of presentations and discussions about future work within the DOME consortium.

Most of the presentations during the meeting were about studies performed by researchers within the DOME consortium. I have no intention of summing up all of them here, but two interesting themes were a concern among physicians about the patients being able to access their health records online, and the problem of differences in the information presented to patients between different county councils. Especially a presentation by Inera highlighted the difference between county councils. A big part of the problem seems to be that the county councils are the ones deciding what should be accessible.

That many physicians seem to be generally critical towards Journalen was clear and this was an issue revisited several times during the meeting days. This is one of the reasons why I’m really excited about working with the other big study (I have already introduced the national survey study in an earlier blog post) I am coordinating – an interview study focusing on medical staff and how their work environment has been affected by the introduction of Journalen. I will write more about this study in a later blog post.

Overall the meeting was a success, with many interesting discussion topics brought up, and I’m really looking forward to the next meeting in the middle of spring 2017! There were quite a few ongoing survey and interview studies discussed during the first meeting day and also quite a few planned activities brought up during the second day, so there are quite a few interesting status reports to look forward to.


Preparing for the NordiCHI conference

The other big activity for me this week was to prepare for the full day workshop “Designing E-Health Services For Patients & Relatives – Critical Incidents and Lessons to Learn” to be held during the first conference day (Sunday 23/10). The preparation was mostly about making a poster and printing it. I’m really looking forward to the workshop and also the conference as a whole.

I have been a part of many workshops, but this one is quite special for me since my contribution to the workshop is based on my own experiences as a patient with a chronical rheumatic disease! I have never before, in my research, made use of the fact that I’m a patient who has regular contact with both physicians and nurses. My contribution’s title is “Making a case for easily accessible electronic health records – A patient perspective on lack of availability of health information in critical situations” and in the position paper I use a scenario based on a critical incident from my own life. I will write another blog post about my contribution, and how it was received at the workshop, after the event.

DOME · Medical Records Online

New challenges up ahead!

In several of Sweden’s county councils the patients can now access (at least parts of) their electronic health records online through a service called Journalen. In some county councils patients have had this possibility for a few years, whereas some has recently started to give the patients’ access. Within a year from now the plan is to provide this possibility to all patients no matter which county council they belong to.

For a few months patients logging in to Journalen have been presented with the opportunity to take part in a national survey study. Now the survey has been taken down and it is soon time to start analyzing the results. One of my bigger tasks during my time as a postdoc at Uppsala University is to lead this process! Within the next coming days I will collect a team of researchers who will, together with me, go through the results and decide on main themes to work with.

It will be very exciting to work with the national survey study since it is the largest follow-up study on the effects of Journalen which has been performed to date. There will, however, also be several challenges. The number of researchers involved will probably be very high and the same goes for the number of sub-tracks to follow in analysis and publications. Another challenge lies in the fact that patients from different county councils have, at least as it is today, access to different parts of their medical records (in some county councils the patients can e.g. only access results which the physicians have signed). The period of time which Journalen has been accessible to patients also differ between county councils. Thus, there will be challenges when it comes to analyzing and interpreting results.

I will continue to write posts about the work with the national survey study as the study moves along. I will, however, not write about things that are confidential or could interfere with a double-blind peer review process. Thus, I will not write about manuscripts being sent in for review or specific details from the results. When manuscripts have been accepted for publication I will of course write about that.


Summary of the second day of SweCog 2016

The second conference day started around 9:00 and ended at 14:45. The SweCog annual meeting was held during the last half hour, so that was not really a part of the conference. This day also included a key note and five paper presentations. Again, most of the presentations were related to machine learning. As in the previous post, about the first conference day, I will give brief description just to give an idea of the different topics covered.


Machine learning and AI

This day’s keynote and three of the paper presentations concerned different aspects of AI. The main topic of the keynote was language technology and the problem discussed was about developing a kind of “cognitive assistants” that can understand words in their current context. Thus, the semantics is the real challenge for these types of AI. An interesting example of a Google search for “Chris Andersson” was brought up. A human can directly understand from the search results that there must be several people with the same name (due to different affiliations being presented and different profiles, etc.), but this is much harder for an AI. A solution based on graph theory was presented, where “Chris Andersson” and each search result became nodes. Internal references between results were marked as edges. The result was a graph in which there were clusters representing search results having one of the many Chris Andersson in common.

The first paper presentation focusing on AI was held by Sam Thellman from Linköping University. The focus was human-robot interaction and more specifically if the type of embodiment matters in the interaction. Several experiments were presented where different types of embodiment, virtual or physical, were compared. These experiment did not show any effect on embodiment – it was more important if the robot was socially influential or not (no matter if it was physically present of virtual). One interesting example brought up, shedding the light on the effect of actually having a physical robot in front of you giving instructions, was that people were more willing to throw books in a garbage can if they got instructions from a physical robot. The connection was never made to human interaction (mediated compared to physical presence) – a discussion about that connection would have been very interesting!

The second paper presentation related to AI was held by Gordana Dodig-Crnkovic from Chalmers. This was one of the more complex presentations since it concerned morphological computing – a means of using physical properties and constraints of a robot’s (or organism’s) body to automatically control behavior. When using morphological computing you build a computational model from bottom and up using knowledge of the parts to build the complete model. Examples were taken from cell biology. Each cell requires their own input and produces a certain output. This of course constrains interaction with adjacent cells. Cells are then working together to build larger structures which in turn interact and have their own constraints. I found this presentation really fascinating since concrete links were made between AI and cell biology in this way. Gordana also brought this up to discussion during the first day’s panel discussion.

The last presentation on the AI topic was held by Ulf Persson from Chalmers. That presentation was about formalizing analogies as a way to transform knowledge from one domain into another. The reason for exploring this was to be able to create AI organisms than can move around between different parts of an environment making decisions (based on earlier knowledge) which can lead to plans for survival. The presentation began with a couple of known analogies (like electrons <-> planets and the somewhat awkward “neurons that wire together fire together” <-> …). The main part of the presentation contained mathematics on a level too complex to bring up here, but the end conclusion from the calculations presented that analogies are only approximate and that the big technical challenge is to find a procedure to discover analogies.


Interaction between speaker and audience

A presentation that really got me thinking about my own behavior was the one held by Mikael Jenssen from University of Gothenburg. He talked about “speaker-audience interactive synchrony”. The main argument was that the people in the audience move in synchrony with e.g. the speaker’s rhythm and body language. Note that the movements produced by the audience don’t have to mirror the speaker’s moves in this case (mirroring could be seen as a special case, though). An experiment was presented in which they found a correlation between an unclear voice and movements in the audience. Quite soon I started to look around so I could see if I could detect any movements in the audience that seemed to correlate with e.g. the speakers talking speed. I stopped after a while, though, since I realized that this particular audience was a horrible sample group since we had just been informed about the how the synchronization worked!


Concepts in motion

This day of the conference ended with a purely philosophical discussion about concepts and their changing nature. Joel Parthemore from University of Skövde talked about concepts and the fact that they are in incremental motion. This has implications for our understanding of the world, since concepts are the primary means of gaining this understanding. Several times during the presentation Joel contrasted his own view of concepts in constant motion against the common view that concepts are stable and precisely defined. The importance of being able to apply a concept in many different contexts was also discussed as well as the need to at least in small ways being able to adapt a concept to new contexts. Just to be on the safe side, Joel also made some references to AI technology.


Summary of the first day of SweCog 2016

The first day of the SweCog conference started around 10:00 with registrations and ended around 20:00 with the conference dinner (lunch was included in the conference but everyone had to pay for their own dinner). This day included one keynote, five paper presentations, one poster session and one panel discussion. Quite a few different topics were covered and most of these were related to machine learning and/or AI. The summaries presented below are short popular science descriptions – the intention is not to cover all important aspects of the different presentations, but rather to give a very broad overview on topics covered during the first day of the conference.


Machine learning and AI

The keynote, two paper presentations and most of the panel discussion concerned different aspects of machine learning. The opening keynote held by prof. Christian Balkenius from Lund University, was about spatial indices that can be used to bind memory to different locations. He introduced e.g. deictic codes for associating information with landmarks in the environment. The core of the speech concerned a computational architecture including a kind of auto-associative memory where the items stored are associated with spatial indices. Several examples of how this can be applied in robots were shown. This topic was also discussed further during the panel discussion, which also brought up the question about how much autonomy one can actually achieve in AI.

The paper presentation by Claes Strannegård from Chalmers also concerned memory and learning but from the animat (artificial animal) perspective. He described a scenario where a generic animat, equipped with sensors, motors (abilities like moving, eating, drinking, etc), vital needs and internal sensors that check the status of these needs, evolved as a result of the available resources and the specific environment where it “lived”. The knowledge database is empty from the beginning and thus the animat needs to “learn” what actions it must take in order to satisfy the vital needs (and what actions not to take). The animat’s only goal is to survive and performance is measured as lifetime – how long it takes until the animat no longer succeeds in satisfying the vital needs (vital parameters reaches 0).

The last presentation that could be connected to machine learning and AI was the one held by Mattias Forsblad from Linköping University. This presentation was different from the other two in that the focus was almost entirely on human memory and search strategies. This was one of the few presentations that used video to illustrate the key ideas. The video showed a woman searching through a couple of bags and jacket pockets to find her bus- and exercise cards. The main point was that the search was limited by clear rules, e.g. related to time of year (no need to search through winter jackets since it was summer) and type of object (there are not many places where you can expect to find a bus card). Consequences for search trees (objects can often be found on some familiar and clearly delimited places) were discussed in relation to machine learning.


Modalities and interaction

The presentation which was closest to my own research area was the one given by Mattias Arvola from Linköping University. He discussed transmodal interaction – how different modalities integrate and affect each other during activities. This concept seems to be very related to crossmodal interaction, but it focuses more on how information and meaning is transformed as we switch between modalities during activities. This was discussed both from a design and user perspective. One example brought up related to the design perspective was a software (Simpro) which first version was just text based. A second version used still images and text, the next version added sound and in the latest version they explored the possibilities with VR. New modalities were added during the lifespan of the project and after each iteration new information and meaning could be conveyed. An example from a user perspective was a haptic pong game which was specifically designed for deaf-blind users. A study showed that it was possible to learn how to play the game using only haptic feedback. Thus, feedback about e.g. location which is usually provided graphically could be successfully conveyed by haptic feedback. This example got me thinking about an audio-only version of the popular game Towers of Hanoi, highlighting that you can solve a rather complex game based on only audio feedback.

The other presentation related to this topic was held by Robert Lowe from University of Skövde. He discussed awareness and sharing of affective values during joint actions (although he never actually used the specific term “awareness”). The point was made that it is absolutely necessary to be aware of each other’s actions, intentions and affective valuations when performing joint actions to reach a common goal. A series of experiments were presented showing the applicability of the so called associative two-process theory in the context of social interaction. An example brought up was two persons moving a heavy object between two places. This reminded me of a study about the joint carrying of a stretcher in a complex environment with many obstacles. An argument was made that task performance was significantly improved in a haptic condition (compared to a visual-only condition) where the users could feel each other’s forces on the stretcher. This example also relates to Mattias’ presentation about transmodal interaction – the new information gained from the haptic feedback added something unique to the interaction.


Clojure – the modern Lisp

The presentation that stood out the most during this first conference day was the one held by Robert Johansson from the Karolinska Institute. His presentation felt, in several parts, as an ordinary programming lecture where code examples are shown and compiled in real time. The main argument presented was that Lisp (and specifically the version Clojure which work with both Java and Javascript) should be used more in cognitive science. There were very few connections to cognitive science in the presentation – one of the few connections made was that Lisp could be used to effectively teach clinical psychologists how to program e-Health applications. An example e-Health web application for doctors, based entirely on Clojure, was also mentioned.


Some remarks on the SweCog 2016 conference


Yesterday I got back from this year’s SweCog (Swedish Cognitive Science Society) conference. This year the conference was hosted by Chalmers University of Technology. It was two very interesting days, which I will try to sum up in coming posts. This post just provides an overview of the event.

I had never heard about this conference before I started my work as a postdoc in Uppsala this autumn and that is partly because this is only the third time SweCog was held in its current form. Before 2013 SweCog was a national graduate school, financed by Vetenskapsrådet (The Swedish Research Council), and was meant to provide a rich research environment for graduate students focusing on cognitive science. After the financed period ended, a decision was taken to make it a yearly conference. The conference has no registration fee and no external funding, so the hosting institution needs to cover the expenses.

We were eight researchers from my department (Visual Information and Interaction) who traveled to the conference as a group and stayed at the same hotel. Five of us went back to Stockholm together while some stayed in southern Sweden for a while. About 50 researchers from different universities (mostly Swedish) attended the conference and there were two key notes, ten paper presentations, one panel discussion and one poster session. The conference had only one track, so you never had to choose between different sessions running in parallel.

Since the conference gathered people whose research interests were in any way related to cognitive science the topics varied widely between different presentations. There were quite a few presentations related to different aspects of machine learning, one was about the power of the programming language LISP and one provided a philosophical view of concepts and their changing nature. As a result it was a little bit hard to find a common thread between the presentations, but on the other hand many interesting areas were covered.

Overall, I’m very pleased with the conference and I hope I will be able to participate again next year. In fact it is very likely that I will do so since it was revealed during the concluding session (the SweCog annual meeting) that the next university to host the event will be Uppsala University!