New Research Theme Works to Understand Intelligent Behavior

Since the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology opened its doors in 1989, one objective has been to be a leader in science and technology by continually fostering new research areas and developing new methodologies to stimulate innovative approaches. Intelligent Systems, a new major research theme, seeks to understand intelligent behavior in biological and artificial systems and their networked interactions.

Two current themes, Biological Intelligence and Human-Computer Intelligent Interaction, have merged into the new theme, which is co-chaired by Elizabeth A. L. Stine-Morrow and Kara Federmeier.

According to the mission statement, Intelligent Systems “seeks to understand intelligent behavior in biological and artificial systems and their networked interactions, including the nature of plasticity and adaptation in these systems, and to use that understanding to advance science and technology, to promote the health and well-being of individuals and communities, and to benefit society.”

“Beckman exists to be an incubator of groundbreaking interdisciplinary research. This requires nimble response to the changing landscape of discovery, and emergence of grand challenges.” --Kara Federmeier and Elizabeth Stine-Morrow, Intelligent Systems co-chairs

For many years, it was clear that the groups within the two themes were very closely connected. A number of collaborative research projects, such as work on healthcare portals for the elderly and language development in children, have relied on the expertise of members of both Biological Intelligence and Human-Computer Intelligent Interaction.

“The new structure better reflects the work that is actually done at Beckman, and creates formal lines of communication that weren’t there before,” said Stine-Morrow.

“Beckman exists to be an incubator of groundbreaking interdisciplinary research. This requires nimble response to the changing landscape of discovery, and emergence of grand challenges,” said Federmeier and Stine-Morrow, when explaining the new theme at a recent presentation. The yearlong process of creating the new research theme was based in part on faculty collaboration as well as the input of an external advisory committee review, which examined both BioIntel and HCII as the plans were developing for the combined theme.

“Reorganization of the themes that were formerly called BioIntel and HCII into the new Intelligent Systems was an engaging process,” said Jeff Moore, interim director of the Beckman Institute.

“The teams are now highly interdisciplinary but tightly interconnected, poised to advance the most pressing questions, from molecular mechanisms of intelligent behavior to the role of social interactions on well-being,” said Moore. 

Stine-Morrow and Federmeier hope to create within Intelligent Systems the infrastructure that affords a dynamic response to new and unexpected challenges in science and technology, while also assuring that the research groups have the stability and resources needed to develop and thrive. Within the theme, each faculty is part of a primary group, but can choose to be a part of any number of groups. Faculty also have the option of creating new groups within the theme over time through an annual process.

“Our goal in this reorganization is to create problem-focused initiatives that are more reflective of the Grand Challenges in science, and its application, that we are well-positioned to tackle,” said Stine-Morrow.

The new Intelligent Systems groups are Cellular and Molecular Foundations of Intelligence (CaMF) led by Justin Rhodes and Daniel Llano; Cognition, Lifespan Engagement, Aging, and Resilience (CLEAR) led by Stine-Morrow; Illinois Language and Literacy Initiative (ILLI) led by Kara Federmeier and Kiel Christianson; Intelligence, Learning, and Plasticity (ILP) led by Aron Barbey; Mechanisms of Cognitive Control (MOCC) led by Diane Beck; Organizational Intelligence and Computational Social Science (OrgInt) led by Mark Hasegawa-Johnson; and Social and Emotional Dimensions of Well-being (SEW) led by Florin Dolcos.

“We all come from our individual disciplines, but we come to Beckman to bring that disciplinary background to bear on solving particular problems,” said Stine-Morrow.

More information on the theme and the research groups can be found here: http://beckman.illinois.edu/research/themes/intelligent-systems

This article is part of the Spring 2017 Synergy Issue, a publication of the Communications Office of the Beckman Institute.