Inside the Interaction Hour

Photo courtesy of School of Computing Podcasts

Although today’s society is largely based on computing, the complex science behind all the computing leaves many confused. For non-experts, algorithms and code may seem like some sort of magical machine work outside the realm of human influence. And this is exactly what inspired Dr. Ayanna Howard, the chair of Tech’s School of Interactive Computing, to create her podcast series: “The Interaction Hour.

“The Interaction Hour was conceived because I wanted to ensure that the world outside of Georgia Tech, as well as inside Georgia Tech, understood that computing has a human face,” said Howard. “It was to show not only the benefits of computing to society but to also show the people who are human that were behind the technology.”

Howard, a former NASA employee and current professor, is an example of a human face behind the technology. As a world-renowned roboticist, she is knowledgeable in making computing and technology accessible and human-centered. She even founded Zyrobotics, a company that designs toys to teach kids with disabilities how to use touch screen technology. 

Although the podcasts in Howard’s series are specifically geared to those who are interested in what computing means for society, they are made for the general public. Howard says the wide audience of her podcasts demonstrates the uniqueness of the Tech community.  

 “We don’t go deep-deep-deep, so you’re not totally confused unless you’re in that field. But [each podcast] has enough intellectual attributions that people can even possibly say they understand what machine learning is.”

In each episode of “The Interaction Hour,” Howard hosts a faculty member, alumnus or student from Tech’s School of Interactive Computing to discuss the impact of computing on daily life. What are some examples of computing’s huge impact?

“Thinking about robots for war and the ethical issues associated … to using computing to help with mental health and PTSD, to looking at the bias in AI as well as virtual reality and how it can be used for education,” Howard said. Howard explained how each episode comes with new lessons even for the producer. 

 “Each one has a unique style. I like all of them. I learn quite a bit about the things that are going on with computing and technology,” said Howard. Over the past few years, podcasts have grown in popularity. Howard contributed their recent success to their accessibility, emphasizing that you can listen to them almost anywhere and while doing almost anything. Howard also attributed their popularity to their unique modality. 

“When you’re reading, you only retain a very small percentage because you scan,” Howard explained. “Whereas when you’re listening, you retain a lot more of the information.” Howard also discussed her plans for the future of her podcast, such as her desire to create a podcast with a live interaction feed.  

“Doing the podcast and then being able to solicit questions in real-time in order to get feedback is the one thing I’d like to do.” Howard even encouraged students to get involved, stressing the podcast’s theme of interaction.  

“One of the things we always try to solicit is topics of interest,” said Howard. “So what are you interested in? What’s engaging? What scares you? What do you know about? Those are really how we find our topics now.” If students have any ideas for episode topics, they can reach out to the School of Interactive Computing on social media or via email to suggest ideas.  

Howard has also made plans for further student involvement in the fall with her “podcast on the street” idea in order to bring in a variety of opinions from around campus, increasing the depth and diversity of the podcast series. “We’re going to have students in training go out and just hang out at the Student Center and say ‘Hey, we’re going to talk about bias. What do you think about it?’ and get some input that way.” The podcasts can be found at ic.gatech.edu/podcasts.