Engineers do not design computers like nature "designed" people, and in the early days the idea of people interacting with computers (as we think of it today) was not considered. So it's not surprising that using a computer can be a frustrating experience, even for professionals. This is the motivation behind Prof. Michael Stiber's work in the Computing & Software Systems Program --- understanding the design of people to aid in the design of more human-like computers.
This is a tall order, and so Prof. Stiber has started where nature did: with simple animals. In collaboration with neuroscientists and mathematicians, he has been using the crayfish nervous system as an example of a biological computer. The modest crayfish and its relatives are hardened survivors of hundreds of millions of years evolutionary warfare, and their senses, movements, and reactions are vastly superior to any computer we can build today. Prof. Stiber is discovering how nerve cells communicate information among themselves, and has begun applying this knowledge to problems in learning and robotic control. He has also developed prototypes for computer systems to aid scientists in investigating biological questions.
Prof. Stiber has brought this experience to the classroom in two ways: teaching the basics of biological computers in a neurocomputing course, and equipping students with the tools they will need to develop future computer systems in courses that cover mathematical principles, advanced programming techniques, computer graphics, multimedia, expert systems, and artificial intelligence. The key ingredient in all these courses is the perspective he gives his students: that though computer technology has come a long way in its 60-odd year history, it is still an infant with a long life ahead.