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[Colloquium] Making Empathic Systems A Reality

October 7, 2011

Watch Colloquium: 

M4V file (684 MB)

  • Date: Friday, October 7, 2011 
  • Time: 12:00 pm — 12:50 pm 
  • Place: Centennial Engineering Center 1041

Peter Dinda
Northwestern University

Although it is largely invisible to the user, systems software makes a wide range of decisions that directly impact the user’s experience through their effects on performance. Most systems software assumes a canonical user. However, we have demonstrated that the measured user satisfaction with any given given decision varies broadly across actual users. This effect appears solidly in areas as diverse as client-side CPU and display power management, server side virtual machine scheduling, and in networks. Empathic systems acknowledge this effect and employ direct global feedback from the individual end-user in the systems-level decision-making process. This makes it possible to (a) satisfy individual users despite this diversity in response, and (b) do so with low resource costs, typically far lower than under the assumption of a canonical user. However, it is challenging to build empathic systems as the user interface to the systems software must present minimal distractions. In this talk, I will expand on the empathic systems model and our results in applying it in the areas described above. I will also describe some of our current efforts in using biometrics to make the empathic systems user interface largely invisible. More information about this work can be found at


Bio: Peter Dinda is a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Northwestern University, and head of its Computer Engineering and Systems division, which includes 17 faculty members. He holds a B.S. in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Wisconsin and a Ph.D. in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University. He works in experimental computer systems, particularly parallel and distributed systems. His research currently involves virtualization for distributed and parallel computing, programming languages for parallel computing, programming languages for sensor networks, and empathic systems for bridging individual user satisfaction and systems-level decision-making. You can find out more about him at