Today’s interview features Dr. Peter Pirolli, a colleague and senior research scientist here at IHMC since 2017. He previously was a fellow at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and is known for his research into human information interaction. Peter’s work on information foraging theory led to his book “Information Foraging Theory: Adaptive Interaction with Information.”
Peter received his doctorate in cognitive psychology from Carnegie Mellon University in 1985 and throughout his career his research has involved a mix of cognitive science, artificial intelligence, and human-computer interaction. His current interests include disruptive mobile-health technologies for precision behavioral medicine to support healthy behavior.
Right now, Peter is working closely with IHMC’s Chief Science Officer Tim Broderick on a DARPA project that Tim discussed in his recent STEM-Talk interview, episode 112. Peter also talks about the project and the work that he, Tim and others at IHMC are doing to increase the biologic aptitude of elite warfighters.
In today’s interview, Peter also discusses his role as the principal investigator of a project that the National Science Foundation recently awarded to IHMC. Peter and his colleagues will be working on improving epidemiological models that will be able to more accurately forecast the rate of infections and deaths related to COVID-19.
[00:02:42] Dawn opens the interview by quizzing Peter about how he took up surfing at the age of 40.
[00:05:48] Ken mentions that Peter grew up in Canada, but that his father, who is Italian, decided to move the family to Italy when Peter was 8 years old. Peter discusses what that was like.
[00:08:37] Dawn mentions that Peter liked to go camping and canoeing as a kid, and developed a love for astronomy. Dawn asks if it is true that Peter used to keep NASA scrapbooks.
[00:10:52] Peter tells the story of the role his mother played in his decision to go to Trent University in Ontario.
[00:12:45] Dawn asks why Peter decided to major in psychology and anthropology despite his childhood fascination with astronomy.
[00:14:47] Dawn asks what attracted Peter to Pittsburg and Carnegie Mellon University for graduate school.
[00:16:12] Ken mentions that at Carnegie Mellon, Peter had the opportunity to meet and work with Herb Simon and Alan Newell, who back in the 1950s were the early pioneers of artificial intelligence. They won the Turing Award in 1975 for their contributions to artificial intelligence and the psychology of human cognition. Ken goes on to mention that Simon also won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1978. Ken asks how Peter, with a background in psychology and anthropology, got to work with these pioneers of the field of AI.
[00:17:59] Ken mentions that one of his favorite works from Simon and Newell was their physical symbols concept and the papers that arose from that.
[00:19:54] Ken mentions that Simon and Newell were interested in developing computational models that could mimic and simulate what the human mind was doing. In addition to AI, they also conducted research that looked at information processing, decision-making, problem-solving, organization theory and complex systems. Ken asks Peter how working with these pioneers influence his later research and career.
[00:22:57] Ken asks Peter to elaborate on the concept that Simon introduced known as “satisficing.” It’s a concept credited with revolutionizing economics by introducing the idea of “bounded rationality” where people have limited time and resources with which to gather data to draw their conclusions, as opposed to the “rational man” concept which assumes that a person making a decision uses all conceivably relevant information to infor...
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