How can we transform the everyday technology people use into intelligent, self-improving systems? Our group applies statistical machine learning algorithms to analyze randomized A/B experiments and give the most effective conditions to future users. Ongoing work includes comparing different explanations for concepts in digital lessons/problems, getting people to exercise by testing motivational text messages, and discovering how to personalize micro-interventions to reduce stress and improve mental health. One example system crowdsourced explanations for how to solve math problems from students and teachers, and conducted an A/B experiment to identify which explanations other students rated as being helpful. We used algorithms for multi-armed bandits that analyze data in order to estimate the probability that each explanation is the best, and adaptively weight randomization to present better explanations to future learners (LAS 2016, CHI 2018). This generated explanations that helped learning as much as those of a real instructor. Ongoing work aims to personalize, by discovering which conditions are effective for subgroups of users. We use randomized A/B experiments in technology as an engine for practical improvement, in tandem with advancing research in HCI, psychological theory, statistics, and machine learning.
Joseph Jay Williams is an Assistant Professor in Computer Science at the University of Toronto, leading the Intelligent Adaptive Interventions research group. He was previously an Assistant Professor at the National University of Singapore’s School of Computing in the department of Information Systems & Analytics, a Research Fellow at Harvard’s Office of the Vice Provost for Advances in Learning, and a member of the Intelligent Interactive Systems Group in Computer Science. He completed a postdoc at Stanford University in Summer 2014, working with the Office of the Vice Provost for Online Learning and the Open Learning Initiative. He received his PhD from UC Berkeley in Computational Cognitive Science, where he applied Bayesian statistics and machine learning to model how people learn and reason. He received his B.Sc. from University of Toronto in Cognitive Science, Artificial Intelligence and Mathematics, and is originally from Trinidad and Tobago. More information about his research and papers is at www.josephjaywilliams.com.