Undergraduate Wins Research Award

University of Dayton senior Josh Buck won the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) research competition for undergraduate students for his work with human computer dialogue. The ACM is the professional society for computer science.

Buck, from Beavercreek, Ohio, is working to create a dialogue system that is much more human-like than current, popular computer personal assistants such as Apple’s Siri.

“Current operating systems are sort of scripted, there are only so many things you can ask them and so many responses they can handle,” Buck said. “The software model that I have created, which is called a mixed initiative system, can have the user process dialogue in a way that is much more natural to them.”

In March, Buck’s research won a first-place medal in the ACM Student Research Competition for Undergraduates at the association’s conference for computer science education in Seattle, which was sponsored in part by Microsoft and a number of other large technology companies. He took the top spot after number of rounds against 33 other undergraduate researchers from around the globe, including students from research 1 universities, such as the University of Maryland College Park, Rutgers and North Carolina State, as well as elite liberal arts colleges like Bryn Mawr.

Buck previously presented at other conferences, including an international conference in Brussels in summer 2016. His resume also includes four published papers and four conferences attended. Through winning the ACM competition, the association has also invited him to write a longer paper and compete in a final round against other winners of previously held ACM Student Research Competitions. If chosen, ACM will support the travel of both he and his advisor to attend the ACM annual Awards Banquet, where prestigious computer science awards are presented, such as the Turing Award, which is often referred to as the Nobel Prize of computing.

He attributes much of his research success to the willingness of his faculty advisor to mentor him through the process and encourage him to follow his research interests.

“I wanted to do something fun outside of my course work, and so I asked my academic advisor, Saverio Perugini, what might be right for me and he said that I should look at opportunities in undergraduate research,” Buck said. “We tossed around ideas together and eventually I decided that I wanted to work on human computer dialogue due to the amount of systems there are today and the way that it is becoming ever more important to advance that field.”

Buck said he is grateful to have had these research opportunities at the University.

“I don’t know how many other schools would allow their undergraduates this opportunity, but my advisor was willing to advise me from the moment I expressed interest,” Buck said. “When I toured UD the faculty of the computer science department took time to speak with me about some of the projects they were interested in and their research interests. That was some exposure I hadn’t seen at some of the bigger schools I had toured.”

Buck has been working on his research since January 2015 and has now developed a full prototype of the system. User testing has started and once he and his team receive results from testing they will make revisions to the structure and begin pitching the system to commercial organizations for use.

After graduation, Buck will be working at the University of Dayton Research Institute on a project concerning the industrial applications of “mixed-reality.” Mixed reality is the merging of the real world and the virtual world to produce environments where real objects and virtual objects co-exist. This research will allow industries to “see” their finished products overlaid onto a product in the process of being manufactured. Buck also hopes to continue his research and education in the future, with the possibility of attending graduate school.

“The opportunity to do undergraduate research has taught me so much more than just what I learned in the classroom,” Buck said. “I started to learn about my interests initially in class, but performing research has allowed me to really expand upon that interest and work on something I’m really passionate about.”

- Alex Burchfield ’16, communication assistant, College of Arts and Sciences

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