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Pierce Receives NSF CAREER Award

Submitted on September 28, 2022 - 2:54pm
James Pierce

Interaction Design Assistant Professor James Pierce received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) Award earlier this year. This significant honor, typically awarded only to faculty in science and engineering fields, is the NSF's "most prestigious award in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization."

Over the five year duration of the grant, Pierce will receive approximately $500,000 to support his research on smart home devices, privacy, surveillance, and data. He also received an earlier NSF Award in 2020, which supported his research into privacy for smart devices. That research will be continued with this 2022 grant:

The introduction of smartphones and tablet computers began a trend of people owning and using multiple “smart" computing devices connected to sensors and the Internet. Popular smart devices include watches, doorbells, cameras, locks, televisions, and speakers. Smart devices offer better ways of living, working, playing, creating, and caring for others. But they also introduce privacy concerns, security vulnerabilities, and potentials for unfair and opaque uses. For example, people may use smart security cameras to surveil and monitor the activities of neighbors, domestic workers, passersby, and other household members. Smart devices with spatial sensing capabilities--such as microphones, cameras, and location tracking--may identify and track people nearby. Non-primary users, such as guests, roommates, and delivery drivers, may interact with smart devices, but with limited awareness, consent, and control. This project will study how primary and non-primary users interact with smart devices, and each other, to better understand their concerns and preferences. Findings will be used to develop prototypes for new products and interfaces to improve privacy for non-primary users. Insights from these prototypes will be generalized into design recommendations for practitioners and educators. The project will also address design tradeoffs and stakeholder conflicts that demand policy and strategy responses beyond purely technological solutions. The education plan incorporates digital privacy, cybersecurity, and data ethics into design and human-computer interaction education and outreach activities.

Piece's research grants have supported multiple undergraduate and graduate students participating in the work. They have come from the School’s Division of Design, the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, and the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering in the UW College of Engineering.

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