Whitworth Communications

For Immediate Release

October 9, 2001

Major Grant Supports Whitworth Research on 'Smart' Computing

Doctors may one day be assisted - or replaced - by "intelligent" computers that monitor and analyze patients' vital signs and other data to support diagnosis and treatment decisions.

Whitworth Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science Susan Mabry has been awarded a $188,000 National Science Foundation grant supporting research and development of intelligent software agents, or "softbots," that form the brains of so-called "smart" computers. The grant will fund equipment for faculty and students as well as support research involving intelligent agents, adaptive neural networks and genetic programming.

"It can be daunting to monitor and make sense of the large number of continuously changing data streams in complex systems such as medical environments and large industrial plants," Mabry says. "There has been a lot of interest in recent years to have automated programs to manage information flow in these complex systems."

Mabry, who helped develop integrated medical systems for the Northrop-Grumman Corporation's Advanced Technologies Division before coming to Whitworth, says that a growing synergy between molecular biology and computer science has opened new possibilities for intelligent computing. Whitworth Associate Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science Kent Jones specializes in the research and development of neural networks, patterned after neurobiological systems, that adapt to stimuli and changes in the environment. Mabry's research has focused on intelligent agent structures and on genetic programming, which uses natural selection processes to generate "smart" code to operate in dynamic, or continuously changing, environments.

Just as humans and other organisms learn to adapt to survive in the world, Mabry says, computers can be programmed to monitor information in their environment, recommend courses of action and evaluate the results of those actions to inform future recommendations. In the medical arena, for example, intelligent computer systems can evaluate models of normal organ systems and disease progressions as well as monitor an individual patient's vital signs and health profile to make independent diagnostic and treatment decisions.

"There is an interest in some circles to fully automate certain levels of decision-making with respect to patient care," Mabry says. "My attitude is that intelligent computing has great potential to inform and support decision-making, but not to replace the doctor."

Mabry joined Whitworth's faculty in 1999 after managing a computer research group at Northrop-Grumman. She has received grants from government and industry and has published numerous research articles in academic and technical conference proceedings. She also currently serves as a research consultant for the Boeing Co. on high-performance computing and simulation.

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private, liberal arts college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The college enrolls about 2,100 students in more than 50 undergraduate and graduate programs.

Contacts:

Susan Mabry, assistant professor of math and computer science, (509) 777-4686 or smabry@whitworth.edu.

Greg Orwig, director of communications, (509) 777-4580 or gorwig@whitworth.edu.

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