Mankoff to present “Andy Talk” on Innovation Research at CMU’s Energy Week

March 28, 2017

Human-Computer Interaction Institute Professor Jen Mankoff will present a 20 minute "Andy Talk" on Wednesday at this year's Energy Week, held March 27-31st at Carnegie Mellon.  Mankoff is part of a panel of CMU energy faculty members who will speak about Innovation Research in the energy sector.  

In her presentation talk, "A Multi-Stakeholder Approach to Sustainable Behavior Change," Mankoff will draw upon the deep relationship between technology, the environment, and society, and the belief that these relationships can be investigated and manipulated to work towards energy-saving behavior and sustainability.  "While there has been much discussion on how environment and society relate, or how technology and society relate, I want to talk about the intersection of all three.  We're trying to take a scientific approach to understanding what is possible."

Mankoff’s earlier work experimented with different ways of influencing people’s behavior.  For example, an early project addressed the question of what can be done to inform people about the impact of their transportation choices.  StepGreen was created to encourage individuals to reduce energy consumption through online social networks.  "This project took place in a social context, which is just as important as how people engage with the technology itself and the environmental benefits or losses.  It's an illustration of how these three things relate to each other in one particular project.”  

Believing that behavior change is not the only solution to addressing climate change, Mankoff is also looking into automation, which not only improves energy efficiency, but basically skips over the whole issue of encouraging people to adopt energy saving behavior.  For example, adopting an automated versus a manual approach of controlling and predicting temperature can eliminate some of the “buy-in” required by people while at the same time saving unnecessary heating.  “You need a combination of understanding human behavior and algorithms behavior in adopting an automated approach to gain the most benefit.  You can’t have one without the other,” says Mankoff.

Because residences are places where there is a fairly large component of overall individual energy consumption, Mankoff and her research team focused on renters in low income households and the problems they face when considering energy use.  This led to the development of EDigs, a rental housing search system which allows prospective tenants to snap a photo and enter a note about rentals during a visit.  EDigs then supplements these features with an estimate of expected utility costs.  Detailed information about the estimate can be viewed and modified, which benefits anyone visiting the apartment, either now or in the future.   This process allows tenants to have more control over housing selection while incentivizing landlords to make housing and infrastructure improvements.

Mankoff strongly believes that technology alone will not get us to the point of adopting sustainable behavior.   “I think it’s important to think about sustainability in a way that includes knowledge about society – from social justice issues to multi stakeholder deployments – as well as knowledge about technology and how we can automate intelligently in ways that reduce the burden on people while still improving the quality of the results that we produce.”