The Advanced Identity Representation (AIR) Project ($535,060/5 years, NSF CAREER Award #0952896) is a new transdisciplinary approach to the problem of designing identity technologies to enable imaginative self-representations and to counter social stigmas by implementing dynamic social identity models grounded in computing and cognitive science. The AIR Project seeks to: (1) Develop models of social computational identity (e.g., virtual characters, avatars, and social networking profiles) to enable user representations that dynamically change in response to context and use, and can minimize implicit stigma built into underlying infrastructure, (2) Implement an identity modeling toolkit for constructing empowering, cross-application self-representations (crucially, both back-end semantic data structures and graphical representations), (3) Use the AIR toolkit to build integrated social networking and narrative/game applications, and empirically assess the quality and nature of user representations constructed in contrast with the quality and nature of current systems.
The AIR Toolkit entails developing new components as follows: Front End/Graphics (for avatars/characters): (1) Support for implementing modular graphical user representations annotated with semantic identity metadata; (2) Functions for transforming modular graphical user-representations dynamically; Back End Semantics (for social networking profiles and simulating identity phenomena): (3) Support for implementation of Identity Semantic Structures (knowledge bases to represent aspects of identity meaning in the application); (4) Functions for generating, transforming, and performing inferences on Identity Semantic Structures; and (5) Customizable data fields for multimedia information profiles.
Broadening diversity of participation is intrinsic to the AIR Project, both in the educational components of this project, and in the technical research itself. Humans have the ability to creatively present themselves in dynamic, fluidly nuanced ways, seamlessly varying body language, discourse, fashion, and more, with astounding sensitivity to context. They also adapt their self-presentations in response to expected behaviors and appearances, as well as to social prejudices, biases, and stigmas. Already, everyday users represent themselves in digital media, yet enabling real world identity dynamics within computational structure is a challenging problem that this research will address. The AIR Project represents a human-centered ethos that extends to education in the classroom, curriculum, mentoring, and outreach. Pilot evaluation work will include participants from diverse demographics and institutions. Theories will be developed in the lab and then deployed in teaching. Technical results will provide a platform that will aid in mentoring new graduate students. Most importantly, the AIR Project serves society-at-large by developing technology to enable real-world empowerment and diversity.