For his contributions to the fields of human-centered computing, measurement of how people use machines, and to our relationship with information and integration of machines effortlessly into our lives, Stuart K. Card, a 1966 alumnus and 2007 Franklin Institute Laureate, has received one of science's highest tributes: The Bower Award for Achievement in Science. The honor includes a $250,000 cash award from the Franklin Institute.
Today we click with a mouse, touch scroll on an iPod, and tap screens on an ATM, which all make for much easier ways of telling a computer what to do.
According to the Franklin Institute, “These kinds of interfaces are taken for granted, and that's exactly what Stuart Card likes to see. He pioneered the field of making such access to computer electronics so streamlined that a human never stumbles over it or even notices it. Card's improvements in human-computer interaction have been as key to the electronic revolution as parallel advances in electrical engineering.”
But streamlining the mouse is only one of the many things Card has accomplished during his more than 30 years at California’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), where he is a senior research fellow. According to PARC President and Director Mark Bernstein, “The emergence of human-information interaction as a science, which couples cognitive modeling and human perception, is a tribute to Stu and his colleagues."
Card says it was the opportunity to take a wide-ranging mix of courses at Oberlin that prepared the ground for his innovative work. “I was very much influenced by the combinations of people and disciplines that flow together so easily at the College. That enabled me to combine a real science degree with a real liberal arts education and strike the right balance between the two.
“Virtually everything I have studied—from physics to English to psychology to linear algebra—has turned out to be extraordinarily useful—in themselves and for the path I eventually took. At Oberlin the tutorials were given by the faculty or by teaching assistants who were undergraduates like myself in physics. That’s a great way to learn. What was truly amazing is that I never had a course that wasn't well taught. In fact, some professors were so riveting that we would applaud spontaneously after their lectures.”
Card says his senior year coincided with Oberlin acquiring its first computer, and he became its biggest user. After graduation, he worked as the assistant director and then acting director of the computer center. But it was a conversation with Nobel Prize Winner Herbert A. Simon after a talk in Finney Chapel that led him to earn a doctorate in psychology at Carnegie Mellon University.
The late Allen Newell and Simon, one of the most influential social scientists of the 20th century, gained renown in the mid-1950s when they launched the field of artificial intelligence. Card went to study with the two at Carnegie Mellon in an interdisciplinary curriculum comprising artificial intelligence, psychology, and computer science.
Card began working for PARC in 1974 and was asked with Newell and Tom Moran to focus on human-computer interaction. Since then, Card has contributed to the creation of Rooms (a multi-screen workspace manager), the information visualizer, table lens, and the segmenting of pull-down menus into sections, as well as to the human-performance analysis of the mouse, which directly influenced its commercial introduction.
Card and his PARC user interface group went on to develop additional ways to characterize human-machine interactions. Among them are information foraging theory, a comparison of the ways humans search for information to the way animals forage for food; the model human processor, a simplified model of the human brain, including such things as visual input, memory storage, and cognitive processes that can be used to give numerical descriptions of how humans behave; and the GOMS theory (goals, operators, methods, and selection), rules that describe how humans interact with computers.
This work also has led to the introduction of a dozen or more products, as well as spin-off companies from Xerox, including PARC: Inxight Software, Outride, and Content Guard. Card has written three books, more than 80 scientific papers, and holds 37 patents.