Engaging Minds, Transforming Lives

King Creativity at Southwestern

W. Joseph "Joey" King '93: Interview

We wanted to know more about Joey King's own experience as a creative Southwestern student who had his own "out of the box" ideas, so we asked him what it was like.

He says he developed a clear vision of his interests early on: "It took me one semester to realize that I did not want to be (and had no aptitude to be) a mathematician. After that cataclysm, my vision was clear. I was and I am interested in emotion, creativity, and computing." This led to him asking a basic question: "Do people make facial expressions to computers?"

This is an interesting question, and it might seem easy to find out. But as Dr. King points out, it's not as simple as it appears. "If you are going to answer it experimentally, you have to worry about the experimenter's presence in the room, the computing task or application, the presence of a camera, etc. All of these could affect facial behavior. Ideally, you need the person alone in a room with a computer doing a variety of tasks with no camera to be found."

Faced with the challenge of analyzing computer users' behavior, without any of the unwanted effects, Joey turned to equipment that had been developed at Bell Labs. "I came up with a configuration that worked. I just had no money to build it. There was no funding available for student projects, especially projects that intended to replicate state-of-the-art Bell Labs designs for no curricular purpose other than to satisfy a student's curiosity."

He turned to his advisor, Dr. Walt Potter, whose endowed chair provided a few hundred dollars. He also turned to Sigma Xi and the provost's office, and cobbled together enough money to do the project.

The results of his research were very exciting, says. "Amazingly, people exhibit all sorts of facial expressions when using computers. While the exhibition rate is not as high as in conversational discourse, all the emotional expressions are there, along with a menagerie of 'cognitive' facial expressions that occur rarely if ever in conversation. This was an epiphany for me. It lead directly to my doctoral research, a half dozen peer reviewed conference papers, a couple of companies, consulting for Walt Disney Imagineering, and a lifelong interest (some might say obsession) with nonverbal behavior in human-computer interaction."

It was thinking back on his own experience, and remembering how he had to scramble to find the funds he needed to follow his ideas, that led Dr. King to establish this fund that will support other students who are also thinking in creative ways. "I had lots of ideas that never came to pass due to lack of funds. I think that Southwestern has an abundance of 19 year olds with really new ideas and true vision. That is what the Fund is designed to support."

We can all be glad that Joey King was willing to think outside the box himself, and is dedicated to making sure that Southwestern students will always have a place to turn when they have unusual, different, and creative ideas!