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Robin Brewer named one of ten scientists “on the cusp of changing the world” by Popular Science

Robin Brewer smiling and wearing a sweater and scarf.

Tuesday, 12/12/2023

University of Michigan School of Information assistant professor Robin Brewer is named one of ten scientists “on the cusp of changing the world” by Popular Science

Brewer, an expert on accessible computing, has been advocating for technology that is centered around aging-first and disability-first design. Her research is focused on working with elderly and disabled people to understand how technology is — or isn’t — working for them. 

Writer Molly Glick highlights Brewer’s recent publications, as well as why Brewer’s research is critical in ensuring marginalized populations are included in conversations about technology. 

“In recent years, [Brewer] has focused on the role of AI and voice assistants like Siri in engaging these communities and helping connect people with shared experiences. In June 2023, she co-authored a paper exploring ways to improve cultural sensitivity in voice technologies for older Black users. Some of the participants, for instance, expressed a desire to hear voices that sounded more like their own without relying on stereotypes.

“Her work could prove particularly useful as the US contends with a significant shortage of home healthcare workers. While Brewer doesn’t think we should replace human professionals with automatons in this context, she thinks tech can help ease the stress of supporting seniors at home—in 2020, more than 50 million people in the US reportedly cared for someone with particular health needs or disabilities,” Glick writes. 

Brewer is currently working on a listening project to better understand the daily challenges of caregivers and care recipients. She is invested in addressing biases in the models AI technologies use. Right now, harms against the disabled community are difficult to quantify and address. 

“While Brewer believes that the artificial intelligence behind much of her work can benefit marginalized populations, she’s also dedicated to confronting the biases baked into the models AI uses,” Glick writes. “In a study published in June 2023, she collaborated with Google research scientists to highlight the biases that large language models—such as those that power chatbots like ChatGPT—hold toward people with disabilities. The team found that these models tend to view disability in narrow terms, as mostly pertaining to physical limitations, and can make harmful remarks about people who rely on others for assistance.” 

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Read “These 10 scientists are on the cusp of changing the world” on Popular Science.

Learn more about Robin Brewer by visiting her UMSI faculty profile

 

— Noor Hindi, UMSI public relations specialist