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Pei-Yun (Sabrina) Hsueh


Pei-Yun (Sabrina) Hsueh, PhD

AMIA is important to me because

AMIA has been my inspiration source ever since I started thinking about how to apply artificial intelligence and HCI to make health impacts. AMIA as a professional organization has a great mix of people who are truly multidisciplinary and includes both informaticians and practitioners. Being able to exchange opinions with those who are on the frontline keeps you honest and makes you think harder about where the real health impacts would be.  To achieve the vision of precision health, we need to integrate insights learned from real-world evidence, from academic knowledge, and from the best practice in the field. AMIA is a one-stop shop where I can learn from the greatest minds in all of these perspectives.

I am involved with AMIA

I am now the Chair-elect of the AMIA Consumer and Pervasive Health Informatics Work Group. We have quite an active membership now. We have a real opportunity here to build consensus and have an impact on a selective set of initiatives going forward to help meet patients’ needs.  I was also on the Scientific Program Committee of the AMIA 2017 Annual Symposium and attended the AMIA Policy Invitational this year. We have a full agenda set for next year to collaborate with various working groups and professional societies who also have an interest in learning more from person-generated health data. Since 2013, I have been organizing a series of workshops in person/consumer and pervasive health informatics and look forward to discussing more about this with leading experts in future meetings.

Why Informatics?

Interesting question. We have to go back to when I was 12. I was one of 7 girls in a 3,000-boy school as this was the first year they accepted girls in the gifted student program. There they had a technology class, and I realized that I had not been exposed to coding before as some of the other boys had been. But I took on the challenge. Bubble sort was my first algorithm, and that was the time when Basic was the programming language. From then, I knew that I would like to learn more about what computers can do for us. In high school and college, I started to learn more about artificial intelligence. I went to the library and found books about AI that fascinated me. I was captivated by the stories of scientists who were teaching computers to recognize human language, and that inspired me to start working on artificial intelligence and human computer interaction. I wanted to be at the center of both. This desire has driven me to work on building an intelligent interface for human decision-making behavior and understanding for my PhD. This is also what has motivated me to work in computational precision health at IBM Research.

How do I describe my work to those outside the field

My work is centered around the marriage of artificial intelligence and human computer interactions for consumer/person-centric and pervasive health informatics. Broadly speaking, I focus on two major challenges. One of them is about teaching computers to understand human health behaviors. Another is about learning how to make the behavioral insights interpretable and actionable in order to help individuals make decisions that have a favorable health impact.

What are your ambitions? At the end of your career, what do you hope to have accomplished?

I am hoping to put AI back into the hands of decision makers, including health care professionals and patients, to help people make better decisions about their health. I want to make sure the patient’s voice is heard so that healthcare professionals can better engage their patients, and I also want to empower the patients themselves. This calls for the need to incorporate what we understand from patients about their preferences and what barriers they might have. To achieve this, we can use principles of behavioral medicine and economics.

Who or what are your “key sources” in the informatics field?

My PhD thesis committee: Dr. Johnana Moore, Steve Renals and Steve Wittaker, and all of my colleagues in the EU FP6 Augmented Multiparty Interaction project enlightened me in the field of computational linguistics and human interactions.

In my pursuit of consumer and pervasive health informatics, it was Dr. Marion Ball whose dedication to this field really inspires me. She has been key in getting me devoted to professional organizations like AMIA. I have also learned a lot from our wonderful community in the AMIA Consumer and Pervasive Health Informatics Work Group and have the honor to give back by serving as the Chair-elect from this year on.

In our Center for Computational Health at IBM Research, I have the privilege to be working with world-class scientists who have been collecting evidence on how to better apply AI and HCI to real-world problems from the beginning. I also learned a great deal from our interdisciplinary team members in the group of Computational Health Behavior and Decision Science and our wonderful collaborators and interns to pursue further in the directions that can really benefit learning from the perspective of different fields.

Hobbies/Interests outside AMIA

I really like traveling. I have traveled to more than 20 countries now. I enjoy going to international conferences, while also exploring the country a little bit more to understand new cultures and different types of cuisine. When I go on my travels I like to go to the local markets. I feel this is a way to connect with people and to understand their culture. We are all living in a bubble of our own so the least I can do is try to step out of my comfort zone to know more about what’s going on. This is important in my pursuit of understanding human behaviors. Being able to appreciate diversity is important to me – not to assume that everybody is the same.  My travels have taken me to Tunisia, Japan, Denmark, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Brazil, Norway and China. I guess this is one of the reasons I became a researcher in the first place.

Our family is also truly global and adventurous, so we have to go around the world to meet them every year. This year, we are going to Australia for the coming holidays and next year we will be going to Iceland. With some training, the kids (5- and 3-years-old) can hike for five hours a day now, so we can take adventures in nature.

It may surprise people to know

As a girl in an all-boys school, I actually was a boy scout and not a girl scout in middle school. They only had a boy scouts program available in the school so I participated as a boy scout. This was in Taiwan. Back then, they didn’t have girls in gifted and talented programs. I was in the first year when they started accepting girls into the program. They even had to build a kitchen and start a cooking class in school for the seven of us, because all the boys would only go to the workshop. Actually it turned out not to be necessary,  as we actually wanted to go to workshop more than cooking class. A few years later, the boys also had to learn how to cook. I am glad to be contributing to the gender equality discussion as a living example.


  • PhD, Informatics, Edinburgh University
  • MIMS, University of California, Berkeley
  • BS, Computer Science and Information Engineering, National Taiwan University