Barbara J. Grosz

Barbara J. Grosz

  • Higgins Professor of Natural Sciences


One of the major challenges for computer science in the next decade is to create the scientific and technological base for easy-to-use, large-scale information systems. Better systems for human-computer communication are an essential part of this challenge, and. theories and models of collaboration are needed to provide foundations for constructing systems able to work with each other and with the people using them.

Professor Grosz's research group addresses fundamental problems in modeling collaborative activity, developing systems ("agents") able to collaborate with each other and their users, and constructing collaborative, multi-modal systems for human-computer communication. Professor Grosz is also attempting to identify the basic structures and processes by which people use natural languages to communicate, focusing in particular on the mechanisms involved in dialogue and spontaneous speech.

Professor Grosz's research group uses the SharedPlans model of collaboration in developing intelligent computer "agents"; that work together in teams. This model handles arbitrary numbers of agents and multiple levels of action decomposition, and it is comprehensive in its treatment of partiality of belief and intention. The research group is also addressing fundamental questions of coordination and group decision making in the context of group of activity.

Professor Grosz has developed a theory of discourse structure that specifies how discourse interpretation depends on interactions among speaker intentions, attentional state, and linguistic form. She has been using the theory to study the use of intonation to convey information about discourse structure, for instance how tones demark, in spoken language, some of the structure that paragraphs and parentheses indicate in written language. This work is likely to lead to better computer speech-synthesis systems.

These two strands of research are being combined in an effort (joint with Professor Stuart Shieber) that aims to provide the scientific and technological base for a new paradigm for human-computer interaction, one that would enable the principled design of multi-modal dialogue-supporting interfaces. This research is investigating ways in which a theoretical understanding of collaborative activity can inform in a principled manner the design of concrete software interfaces.

Grosz was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2008, the American Philosophical Society in 2003, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2004. She is a fellow of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI), the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. For her groundbreaking research that crosses disciplines, she is also the recipient of the ACM/AAAI Allen Newell Award. In 1993, she became the first woman president of the AAAI. She serves on the executive committee and is a former trustee of the International Joint Conferences on Artificial Intelligence and serves on the council of the American Philosophical Society.

Grosz earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Cornell University and master's and doctoral degrees in computer science from the University of California at Berkeley.

Contact Information

Office:249 Maxwell Dworkin Building
Office Phone:(617) 495-3673
Assistant:Jessamyn Jackson
Assistant Office:Maxwell Dworkin 247
Assistant Phone:617-495-3963

Primary Teaching Area

Positions & Employment

Harvard University

  • 2001-Present: Higgins Professor of Natural Sciences
  • 2008-2011: Dean, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study
  • 2007-08: Interim Dean, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study
  • 2001-2007: Dean of Science, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study
  • 1986–2001: Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science

SRI International, Artificial Intelligence Center

  • 1983-86: Sr. Staff Scientist
  • 1982-83: Program Director, Natural Language and Representation
  • 1981-82: Senior Computer Scientist
  • 1977-81: Computer Scientist
  • 1973-77: Research Mathematician

Center for the Study of Language and Information, SRI International and Stanford University

  • 1983-86: Cofounder; Executive Committee and Principal Researcher
  • 1986-87: Advisory Panel

Other Experience & Professional Membership

  • American Philosophical Society, 2003
  • American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2004
  • Fellow, American Association for Artificial Intelligence, 1990
  • Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1990
  • Fellow, Association for Computing Machinery, 2004


  • Distinguished Alumna Award in Computer Sciences and Engineering, University of California at Berkeley (1997)
  • IFAAMAS Influential Paper Award (2007) for: Grosz, Barbara, and Sarit Kraus. 1996. “Collaborative Plans for Complex Group Action.” In Artificial Intelligence 86(2), pp. 269-357.
  • Miegunyah Distinguished Fellow, Department of Information Systems, Faculty of Science, University of Melbourne, Australia.
  • Donald E. Walker Distinguished Service Award, International Joint Conferences on Artificial Intelligence (2001)
  • Distinguished Service Award, American Association for Artificial Intelligence (1999)