Faculty Highlight: Marjorie McShane
Marge McShane is a cognitive scientist, computational linguist and knowledge engineer who develops cognitive models of intelligent agents that can collaborate with people in task-oriented, dialog applications. She is particularly interested in the integration of functionalities that are often treated in isolation, such as physiological simulation, emotion modeling and the many aspects of cognition.
One aspect of cognition to which she has devoted particular attention is natural language processing, approached from a cross-linguistic perspective and with the goal of producing machine-tractable descriptions that can support sophisticated conversational agents. McShane was a central contributor to the Boas system, a proof-of-concept system that elicited knowledge about any of the world’s languages from linguistically untrained native speakers. Boas used a mixed-initiative strategy, by which the system guided certain aspects of the knowledge compilation process and the user took the lead in others. Among the key requirements were that the system accommodate descriptions of not only anticipated, but also unanticipated, phenomena; that the descriptions be sufficiently formal to directly provide support to a generic machine translation engine; and that the system be usable by informants without the support of developers.
McShane has also worked extensively on cognitive modeling in the medical domain, to support the configuration of intelligent agents playing the roles of virtual patients and tutors in training applications such as the Maryland Virtual Patient system. Guided by the functional needs of such agents, McShane has recently begun to pursue the modeling of “mindreading” (otherwise known as mental model ascription), defined as inferring features of another human or artificial agent that cannot be directly observed, such as that agent's beliefs, plans, goals, intentions, personality traits, mental and emotional states, and knowledge about the world. This capability is an essential functionality of intelligent agents if they are to engage in sophisticated collaborations with people.
McShane has authored two books, A Theory of Ellipsis (Oxford University Press, 2005) and An Innovative, Practical Approach to Polish Inflection (Lincom Europa, 2003), and has published extensively in the areas of linguistics, natural language processing, cognitive modeling and knowledge representation.