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Paul Pangaro: Computing Conversation – When, Why, How, Who? - Breed Hall/MMCH 103

  • CMU School of Architecture - Breed Hall/MMCH 103 5000 Forbes Avenue Pittsburgh United States (map)

Human-Computer Interaction Institute Professor of Practice Paul Pangaro will deliver a lecture entitled “Computing Conversation / When, Why, How, Who?” as part of the Computational Design Lecture series. The lecture takes place on Tuesday 09 April at 5:30pm in Breed Hall/MMCH 103.

The talk begins by riffing on “conversational machines” that were built long before today’s chatbots and voice interfaces. Without the wonder of speech recognition and the latest tech getting in the way, these works offer principles and suggest projects for "designing for conversation” in the modern day. Approaching conversation as the highest goal for design affords a practical view of the ethics of designing interactions.

Computing Conversation – When, Why, How, Who?
Tuesday 09 April, 2019 | 5:30pm
Breed Hall / Margaret Morrison Carnegie Hall Room 103 

When Gordon Pask created his immersive gallery installation “Colloquy of Mobiles” in 1968, he gave us a vision of a future that we have thus far refused. Unlike our merely-responsive devices of today, Pask’s mobiles from 50 years ago are organic and analog in appearance and behavior, a gaggle of autonomous machines at human scale. And they are capable of conversation. But Pask never built a chatbot. Neither did his mobiles partake in the messy, contorted exchanges that humans get into, but still – they exchanged messages and decided whether to engage or not, and whether to cooperate or not, all in service of their individual (and often shared) goals. They had a conversation. The pinnacle of Pask’s conversational designs is an “architecture machine,” the enabling of a human-machine conversation that evolves not just the means of building a design (CAD renderings, engineering specifications) but also evolves the goals and values behind a design (reasons for why the design is what it is). Reviewing Pask’s career yields rich desiderata for human-machine interaction that we can use to reframe our human relationship to machines, if we wish to. Today we have extraordinary work from architects, artists, and technologists, striving for organic and analog environments, even creating a responsive fabric for “smart cities” and IoT. But where is the actuality of conversation, the dance of intention and action?

In this talk, Colloquy of Mobiles and its full-scale replication in 2018 are used to revisit Pask’s journey from building conversational machines to building a theory of conversations. An invaluable concept emerging from conversational machines is the definition of an “ethical interface” that offers reliable transparency of action and intent – the what and the why – such that trust may arise. Yet the ultimate provocation of conversational machines is imperative for all who design: to enable others to converse. Thus we increase the number of choices for all.

Paul Pangaro studied theatre, film criticism, and computer science while an undergraduate at MIT, spending the remainder of his time acting in plays and writing software for interactive graphics and computer-generated film. On graduating, Pangaro worked on neural simulations and then joined The Architecture Machine Group, Nicholas Negroponte’s research lab, founded 15 years before the MIT Media Lab. At ArchMach, Pangaro met Gordon Pask and pursued a PhD with Pask at Brunel University (UK), applying Pask’s conversation theory framework to software systems for learning. Over his career in startups and consulting, he has built systems for interacting with content, proposed methods of organizational transformation and “innovation,” and designed the process of design, all based on conversation models. From 2015, he chaired the MFA Interaction Design program at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, and in January 2019 he joined Carnegie Mellon as Professor of Practice in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute. His work can be found at

This event is presented as part of the
Code Lab Computational Design Lecture Series. The Code Lab at Carnegie Mellon University is a multidisciplinary collaborative formed to address complex issues at the intersection of art, design, architecture, and engineering.