William J. Clancey: Home > Professional history

For on-line articles and book tables of contents see my publications.

Professional Background

I am a Senior Research Scientist in the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Pensacola. During1998-2013, I was on an assignment at the NASA Ames Research Center, Intelligent Systems Division, where I was Chief Scientist for Human-Centered Computing.

I received my undergraduate degree in Mathematics Sciences (BA, summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa) at Rice University in Houston, Texas in 1974. The courses that had the greatest influence on my later work were "The philosophy of knowledge" (Konstantin Kolenda), "Language, thought, and culture" (Stephen Tyler), and "The radical sociology of knowledge" (Kenneth Leiter). My advisor was Ken Kennedy, who taught an enthralling course on "compiler construction." Altogether, I took 40 courses in 13 departments, including six anthropology and three philosophy courses. Rice's teachers were wonderful lecturers who inspired you with their own enthusiasm and the clarity of their thought and writing.

I received a PhD in Computer Science at Stanford University, California in 1979, specializing in artificial intelligence. My dissertation project was the first attempt to use an expert system for instruction. I was a member of the "Mycin Gang" in the Heuristic Programming Project, which became the Knowledge Systems Laboratory in the late 1970s. These projects were directed by Bruce G. Buchanan. From 1979-1987 I managed research on Neomycin (a second-generation expert system) and a variety of associated explanation, instructional, and learning programs funded by the Office of Naval Research and the McDonnell Foundation.

I joined the Institute for Research on Learning (IRL) in 1987, with special interest in relating the cognitive and social perspectives about knowledge and learning. I worked on organizational change and work systems design projects in corporate settings at the former Nynex Science and Technology, Xerox (Customer Care Center, Dallas), and Kaiser-Permanente (Pasadena, CA).

Some Research Details

Involved in expert systems research from the early days of the MYCIN Project in 1975, I developed some of the earliest AI programs for explanation, the critiquing method of consultation, tutorial discourse, and student modeling. My work on "heuristic classification" and "model construction operators" has been influential in the design of expert systems and instructional programs.

I have published seven books, including: Knowledge-Based Tutoring (1987), Contemplating Minds: A Forum for Artificial Intelligence (1994, with S. Smoliar and M. Stefik), and Situated Cognition: On Human Knowledge and Computer Representations (1997), Working on Mars: Voyages of Scientific Discovery with the Mars Exploration Rovers (2012),  which received the  American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) 2014 Gardner-Lasser Aerospace History Literature Award. I have presented my research in tutorials and keynote addresses in over twenty countries.

My work in the late 1990s re-examined the relation of descriptive cognitive theories to human experience and neural processes. A book synthesizing symbolic and connectionist approaches appeared  in 1999, Conceptual Coordination: How the mind orders experience in time (Erlbaum).

In the Brahms multiagent simulation of situated action, I show how work flow diagrams may be generated from lower-level descriptions of practice, with applications to operations planning, training, and automated assistance.  The Brahms framework was applied very successfully in Brahms-GÜM for simulating air transportation systems to better understand complex (time critical, unexpectedly coupled, and dangerous) interactions of people and automated systems.

My scientific writing has spanned a variety of topics that reconsider the relation of knowledge and memory, "situated robots," neuropsychological dysfunctions, and how policies and plans are interpreted in work settings. An example of the latter is how the nature of the scientific method is adapted for doing collaborative scientific work remotely on Mars.

Highlight: Work Practice Simulation

Work practice simulation research seeks to advance our scientific understanding of human behavior as it pertains to the design of work systems, viewed as interacting organizations, procedures, facilities, and tools. The unit of analysis for studying work practice is called an "activity." The study of work activities is very broad, including not only assigned jobs, but also "off-task" activities (e.g., waiting), non-intellectual motives (e.g., hunger), sustained goals (e.g., playful interaction), and coupled perceptual-motor dynamics (e.g., following someone). The research involves relating diverse analytic concepts such as scripts, human factors, behavior settings, ensemble, and situated action. A simulation model makes the relationships concrete, through the explicit modeling of groups of agents, body states (e.g., posture), beliefs, communications, tools, and the physical setting. Example work practices we have studied and simulated in Brahms include scientists on field expeditions, astronauts in the International Space Station,  mission controllers remotely operating a rover on Mars, and an automated cockpit system  (TCAS) that commands pilots how to avoid an impending collision. Simulating work practice in this comprehensive way, combining social and psychological perspectives, is useful for better understanding human cognition, promoting learning, and designing better tools, including especially computer automation and robotics.

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