Computers with a 'human' face

A researcher at Florida State University (FSU) is working to give computers a human 'face' and her computer-generated characters can be tailored to a specific audience. For example, she is using such agents to challenge young women's stereotypes about the engineering profession.

For many years now, researchers have tried to make computers more user-friendly, sometimes with the use of avatars on screen trying to educate us. Results have never been really successful. But now, a researcher at Florida State University (FSU) is working to give computers a human 'face' and her computer-generated characters can be tailored to a specific audience. For example, she is using such agents to challenge young women's stereotypes about the engineering profession by employing non-stereotypical engineering 'mentors' like pseudo-women.

Here are some details about this FSU project.

"Up until now, the personal computer's potential to be a valuable teaching and learning tool has been stymied by its 'soulless' nature," said Amy L. Baylor, [an associate professor of instructional systems and director of FSU's Center for Research of Innovative Technologies for Learning (RITL).] "At RITL, we're using computers to simulate human beings in a controlled manner so we can investigate how they affect and persuade people."
Every day at RITL, researchers in the areas of instructional technology, human-computer interaction, communication, computer science and psychology work to develop innovative uses of technologies to support learning and performance.

And Baylor is achieving this goal with what she calls 'pedagogical agents.'

A pedagogical agent is an animated, three- dimensional character that serves as the "face" (and "interface") of the computer and that can mimic human emotional expressions, nonverbal communication and interactions.

Below is a animated version of one of these pedagogical agents named the 'Peer' model (Credit: FSU). Here is a link to an animated version of this agent. And you'll other examples on this demo site.

The 'Peer' educational agent

And these agents can be controlled and adapted to suit your needs in an optimal way.

"Unlike a human mentor, we can control all aspects of a pedagogical agent - its gender, age, ethnicity, personality, message, and interaction style - to represent the ideal persona for facilitating learning. This leads to all kinds of exciting possibilities for simulating and researching different teaching styles and instructional strategies."

And for more information about this project, you can read some of the publications of the researchers.

Sources: Florida State University news release, November 15, 2005; and various web sites

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