Jenny Sabin

The Jenny Sabin Studio team includes Jenny E. Sabin, Architectural Designer and Artist; Dillon Pranger, M.Arch. ’15, Project Manager; John Hilla, Designer; Jeremy Bilotti ’18, Designer; and William Qian ’19, Designer. The Microsoft Research team is Eric Horvitz, Technical Fellow and Director; Shabnam Erfani, Director of Special Projects; Asta Roseway, Principal Research Designer/Fusionist; Wende Copfer, Principal Design Director; Jonathan Lester, Principal Electrical Engineer; Daniel McDuff, Principal Researcher; and Mira Lane, Partner Director/Ethics.

October 21, 2019

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In Building 99 on Microsoft’s Redmond, Washington campus, Prof. Jenny Sabin, architecture, unveiled her latest project: an AI interface called Ada that translates people’s facial reactions into color by using a network of a dozen cameras designed to collect people’s facial expressions.

Sabin, who was invited to participate in Microsoft’s Artist in Residence program, hoped to “explore artificial intelligence in ways that would make it more human centered — would provide bridges to understanding the technology.” Through Ada, she hopes to bring more people closer to artificial intelligence in a more friendly, approachable manner.

Ada was named after gifted mathematician and early computer programmer Ada Lovelace, who was cited to have written instructions for the first computer program in the mid-1800s. According to Sabin, the system functions as an interface for “expressing sentiment data that’s been picked up by cameras and reveals the data through light and color.”

Beyond the 12 cameras within the room, there is also an additional sensor and camera contained inside the project that can override the other cameras. These sensors and cameras read “the collective sentiment of the building [facial expressions] from individuals,” according to Sabin.

“There are inherent structures and intangible aspects of data that we can’t normally see, but visualization and showing in new ways can allow us to probe [the data] and ask new questions,” Sabin said.

Ultimately, the purpose of Ada is to raise awareness about issues that people may not necessarily think about. “[We are] providing a platform for looking and exploring artificial intelligence, but making it very playful and joyful and cheerful and full of wonder so that it allows people to have a dialogue,” Sabin said.

Addressing the specific privacy concerns surrounding Ada, Sabin explained that all of the data is anonymous, alleviating concerns of individuals being identified. “One of the mandates of this project is to foster dialogue around this issue [privacy] and to ultimately create a project that’s about transparency … the issue of how data is being collected [and used],” she said.

Although Ada is now complete, Sabin’s work is far from over. “We have three research projects here in the lab, [and] we have a couple projects that are going into construction.”

Sabin added that she has been working on a permanent project commissioned by the College of Human Ecology for a number of years now. The project is currently in fabrication and will open in the spring of 2020.