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Virtual humans are computer-generated characters designed to look and behave like real people. Studies have shown that virtual humans can mimic many of the social effects that one finds in human-human interactions such as creating rapport, and people respond to virtual humans in ways that are similar to how they respond to real people. We believe that virtual humans represent a new metaphor for interacting with computers, one in which working with a computer becomes much like interacting with a person and this can bring social elements to the interaction that are not easily supported with conventional interfaces. We present two systems that embody these ideas. The first, the Twins are virtual docents in the Museum of Science, Boston, designed to engage visitors and raise their awareness and knowledge of science. The second SimCoach, uses an empathetic virtual human to provide veterans and their families with information about PTSD and depression.
For more than a decade, we have been building virtual
humans (VHs) at the University of Southern California
(USC) Institute for Creative Technologies. Ultimately we
want to be able to create virtual humans that look, commu-
nicate, and behave like real people as much as possible.
Specically, these characters would be autonomous, thinking
on their own, modeling and displaying emotions, and inter-
acting in a uid, natural way using verbal and nonverbal
communication. While that ultimate vision is still in the
future, it is already possible to build characters that realize
parts of this vision — characters that can be practically incor-
porated into a variety of useful systems.
Our initial goal in creating virtual humans was to con-
struct characters that could act as replacements for human
role players in training and learning exercises, but their
potential is far more profound: virtual humans are able to
connect with real people in powerful, meaningful, and com-
plex ways. Because they mimic the behavior of real people,
virtual humans can add a rich social dimension to computer
interactions, providing not only a wealth of information,
which computers already do well, but a means to present that
information in more personal ways. Virtual humans can, for
example, add social elements that great teachers often
employ, such as establishing rapport, building relationships,
expressing enthusiasm about a subject, or providing encour-
agement to a struggling learner. Such inherently human
interactions can serve to increase user engagement and one’s
sense of connection to the virtual character. In fact, studies
have shown repeatedly that people respond to virtual
humans in much the same way as they do to real people
(Reeves and Nass 1996; Krämer, Tietz, and Bente 2003;
Gratch 2007b). In sum, we believe the emergence of practi-
cal virtual humans opens up an entirely new metaphor for
how we interact with computers, one that has important
consequences for a wide range of domains, but perhaps most
importantly, for how we learn.
WINTER 2013 13
Copyright © 2013, Association for the Advancement of Articial Intelligence. All rights reserved. ISSN 0738-4602
Virtual Humans
for Learning
William Swartout, Ron Artstein, Eric Forbell,
Susan Foutz, H. Chad Lane, Belinda Lange,
Jacquelyn Morie, Dan Noren, Skip Rizzo, David Traum
IVirtual humans are computer-gener-
ated characters designed to look and
behave like real people. Studies have
shown that virtual humans can mimic
many of the social effects that one nds
in human-human interactions such as
creating rapport, and people respond to
virtual humans in ways that are similar
to how they respond to real people. We
believe that virtual humans represent a
new metaphor for interacting with com-
puters, one in which working with a
computer becomes much like interacting
with a person and this can bring social
elements to the interaction that are not
easily supported with conventional
interfaces. We present two systems that
embody these ideas. The rst, the twins
are virtual docents in the Museum of
Science, Boston, designed to engage vis-
itors and raise their awareness and
knowledge of science. The second, Sim-
Coach, uses an empathetic virtual
human to provide veterans and their
families with information about PTSD
and depression.
user, and includes novel user ID
through analysis of hand images. Visi-
tors must select options from a menu
to interact with Tinker.
The main difference between the
above two systems and the twins is the
input modality — the twins under-
stand human speech, allowing
unmediated, naturalistic interaction
with visitors. There are several systems
similar to the twins in this regard. The
“pixie” system (Bell and Gustafson
2003) that was part of a 2003 exhibit in
the Swedish Telecom museum called
“Tänk Om” (“What If”), where visitors
experienced a full-size apartment of
the year 2010. The visitors could help
Pixie perform certain tasks in the apart-
ment or ask the agent general ques-
tions about herself or the exhibition.
Sergeant Blackwell (Robinson 2008),
exhibited at the Cooper-Hewitt Muse-
um in New York in 2006–2007 as part
of the National Design Triennial exhi-
bition, and Furhat (Al Moubayed et al.
2012), who was shown for four days in
2011 at the Robotville exhibit in the
Science Museum in London, also sup-
ported spoken interaction with visi-
tors. These systems do not share the
twins’ educational goals, but they do
understand speech input and employ a
variety of techniques to overcome
noisy and difcult-to-recognize
Designing for Engagement
We wanted to make a character that
visitors to Cahner’s Computer Place
would nd engaging.But engagement
is not determined by a single factor.
Instead, it is a function of many
aspects, such as appearance, behavior,
and content all working together. Any
single weak aspect may lead to disen-
gagement. Thus we had to consider
carefully how our characters would
look, how they would interact, and
what content they would deliver.
For the character’s appearance, we
wanted to design a look that would
appeal to the broad demographics of
the Museum of Science’s visitors. Vir-
tual humans in such settings are far
from commonplace, so it was difcult
to nd previous research that would
support the choice of any particular
character type over another. Would
our visitors respond better to a young
In this article we will describe two
virtual human systems we have con-
structed that embody these ideas. The
rst, the Twins, named Ada and Grace,
are virtual characters that act as digital
docents and STEM (science, technolo-
gy, engineering, and mathematics) role
models in the Cahners Computer Place
at the Museum of Science, Boston.
They tell visitors about things they can
see and do there, can answer general
questions about information technol-
ogy, and can even explain how they
work. However, more than just provid-
ing information, the twins are embod-
ied social beings. They banter back and
forth showing signs of sibling rivalry.
They answer questions about their
backgrounds, likes and dislikes, and
even whether they have boyfriends.
They were expressly designed in this
way to appeal to children and young
Our second system, SimCoach, uses
a virtual character to help returning
veterans confront problems such as
depression and PTSD by engaging
them in a dialogue to assist them in
nding appropriate mental health
resources. While the information pro-
vided by SimCoach is similar to what
could be obtained from a website such
as WebMD, the use of conversational
interaction with a highly approachable
virtual character allows us to create
rapport, establish trust, and encourage
people to nd the help they need. The
use of virtual humans, we believe, low-
ers the barriers to care by providing an
engaging guide to potentially daunting
mountains of medical information and
by removing the stigma that is some-
times associated with seeking help.
Thorough evaluations of these sys-
tems have shown that people who
interact with them (1) respond to vir-
tual humans in ways that are similar to
how they respond to real people, (2)
are enthusiastic about interacting with
the characters, and (3) gain knowledge
and information based on what the
characters seek to convey.
Although the two systems described
cover very different learning domains,
they are united by their use of virtual
humans. Because they bring social ele-
ments to computer information sys-
tems, virtual humans tap into a way we
have learned well for millennia —
through talking to people — and thus
open up new possibilities for how we
can use computers as part of learning
and education.
In the remainder of this article we
rst describe how the twins were
designed to engage visitors, explain
their technology, and report on the
results of an extensive evaluations of
the accuracy and performance of their
natural language-processing technolo-
gy as well as their impact on museum
visitors. We then describe how Sim-
Coach was designed, its underlying
technology, and summarize its evalua-
tion. We close by discussing the impli-
cations of the virtual human as a new
metaphor for learning and interacting
with computers.
Virtual Human Museum
Guides (The Twins)
The virtual human museum guides
were part of an NSF-funded effort in
collaboration with the Boston Muse-
um of Science that had two purposes:
rst, to see if virtual humans could
serve as a form of intelligent interface
between museum visitors and the
exhibits in the museum’s Cahner’s
Computer Place, and second, to create
a living exhibit that educated the
museum public about how virtual
human characters were built and how
they actually functioned.
Related Work
There have been some previous instal-
lations of virtual humans in museums.
In January 2004, the Max agent was
installed in the Heinz Nixdorf Muse-
ums Forum (HNF), a public computer
museum in Paderborn (Germany)
(Kopp et al. 2005). Max is humanlike
in size on a static screen, standing face-
to-face to visitors of the museum. Act-
ing as a museum guide, Max’s primary
task is to engage visitors in conversa-
tions to provide information about the
museum, the exhibition, or other top-
ics of interest. However, Max only
allows keyboard input. In Cahners
Computer Place, the Tinker exhibit
(Bickmore et al. 2008; Bickmore,
Pfeifer, and Schulman 2011), an
embodied conversational agent (ECA)
in the guise of a robot, builds relation-
ships and tracks engagement with the
person their own age, an elder wise-
looking expert, someone slightly older
and “hip,” or someone funny? Would
they prefer to interact with a digital
character that was very realistic in
appearance, or one that was more
graphic and “cartoony”?Should the
virtual human look like a superhero or
a normal person? Because there was
already one virtual character in resi-
dence at Cahner’s, a personable digital
robot called Tinker (Bickmore et al.
2008; Bickmore, Pfeifer, and Schulman
2011), we felt that the guide character
should look more realistic to provide
variety. We also felt that it should
resemble the (human) museum inter-
preters, as it would be performing a
function similar to theirs. Initial dis-
cussions led us to decide on a female
character, based on anecdotal evidence
in informal education venues that
indicated young (twentyish) female
role models would better attract and
engage the target audience of 7- to 14-
year-old visitors, especially young
female visitors. It was also noted that
young adult females were often per-
ceived as more sociable and therefore
more approachable that other poten-
tial role models.
Selecting the Character Model
To ensure that we were creating a g-
ure that really appealed to the visitor
base, we decided to present a survey of
selections to people to see how they
responded (Swartout et al. 2010). We
selected a number of images of young
females from a modeling agency cata-
log that reected a cultural ambiguity
that might appeal across a wide range
of ethnicities. The museum personnel
performed an internal formative
research survey to see which of these
most appealed to museum visitors.
Museum visitors of different ages, gen-
ders, and ethnicities (selected at ran-
dom) were presented with these
images and were asked to choose the
one with which they would be most
comfortable interacting. We also col-
lected visitor demographics and their
reasons for selecting the particular
human model. Based on survey results
we selected a young model, about 19
years old. She was brought to the ICT
to be scanned to obtain the three-
dimensional (3-D) geometry and
detailed facial textures that would be
WINTER 2013 15
used to create a digital character that
closely resembled her.
Twin Characters
Parallel to this, discussions continued
about how to make the character most
engaging to the audience. While the
project initially specied a single VH
museum guide, we came to understand
that museum visitors, especially young
visitors, might not approach such a
character because they might not
know what they were seeing, nor
understand that they could actually
interact with the VH guide. Kim
LeMasters, ICT’s creative director, sug-
gested it might make sense to use two
virtual characters because they could
interact with each other as well as with
the audience. We discussed the analo-
gy of a “party group” where a newly
arrived guest would more likely
approach two people interacting than
a lone individual. Presenting responses
to user queries as dialogue rather than
monologue has several advantages,
such as allowing opportunities for
humor — teasing each other rather
than the visitor, and follow-up
responses to known lead-ins, in cases
when the user response might not be
fully predictable. Moreover, as
described by Piwek (2008), a number of
empirical studies have found presenta-
tion in dialogue more effective than
monologue for educational and per-
suasive purposes. Having an interac-
tive conversation with two guides
would be intriguing, and to our knowl-
edge had never been done in a muse-
um, but it would also be twice the
work, and therefore cost prohibitive.
We came up with the idea to portray
them as identical twins so that the art
assets could be reused, giving us
approachable interacting characters,
but without much of the extra cost of
building a second character. It also
allowed us to have the twins convers-
ing with each other while waiting for
visitors to approach, which would
keep them lively and draw visitors in
to see what they were saying.
Now that we had determined the
look, and had scanned the model and
translated her into 3-D digital twins, it
was time to think about the voices we
would implement for each of the indi-
vidual characters. There are two
approaches to create voices for intelli-
gent virtual humans: speech synthesis
or recording a human voice actor. To
make the conversation between the
twins as engaging as possible, and to
support believability, we decided to use
the recorded human voice solution.
This required hiring a professional
voice actor, as our model was not a
voice talent. It also required us to
ensure that the voice actor’s speaking
voice was not only appealing but actu-
ally sounded like it could belong to the
visual characters.
We made recordings of several voice
talents reciting a subset of phrases
from the full range of responses the
twins would speak. ICT and museum
project teams were polled to select the
voice talent recordings that objectively
met certain voice and speech criteria,
including 7–14 year old friendly;
matches twins persona; pitch, cadence,
tempo; pronunciation; conversational;
fun / interesting; comfortable / natu-
ral; and Bostonlike.
We also considered using different
voice talents for each twin, and doing
signal processing to adjust the speak-
ing rate and pitch, to make the two
twins sound different. After reviewing
simulated dialogues of each combina-
tion, the unprocessed recordings from
one of the voice talents was the top
choice for both twins (and we recorded
a slightly altered performance for each
twin voice).
Naming the Twins
Because the Cahner’s Computer Place
section of the Boston Museum of Sci-
ence (where the twins have been
installed) is dedicated to computers,
robots, and electronic communication,
the museum staff often referenced Ada
Lovelace and Grace Hopper, two
female computer pioneers from the
19th and 20th centuries (respectively)
in interactions and interpretations
with visitors. The names Ada and
Grace therefore came up naturally in
the selection process. After some dis-
cussion that they might be a bit “old
fashioned” for the target audience, it
was agreed there was much to be
gained by using them. We felt that
while they were not “typical” or mod-
ern names, they did bring a historical
component to the project, as well as
providing a springboard for responses
and phrases that allowed us to include
conversations that could promote STEM role models
of famous women in computer science.
Personalities / Backstory Content for VH Twins
To enhance the ability of the twins to attract and
continually engage the target audience, distinct per-
sonalities along with backstories for each were creat-
ed. The twin named Ada is artsy and tends to be more
logical and somewhat serious; Grace is more geeky
and loves to joke. The phrase/response content, as
well as body and facial expressions, were developed
and rened to support these personalities. Family
background, school subjects, individual likes and dis-
likes, physical and personality traits, dress, and
favorite things were decided upon and implemented
within the conversational repertoire for each of the
19-year-old twin sisters.
Responses, Content, and Phrases for VH Twins
The content for the virtual twins’ knowledge base
was dened by the Cahners Computer Place person-
nel, then edited and expanded by ICT, with creative
input from entertainment industry writers. The raw
content and the nal phrasing were optimized for
the target audience of young visitors: to attract and
then engage for an extended period, as well as to
encourage exploration of the other exhibits and
activities in the space, and even outside of the muse-
um. In addition, multiple responses to some ques-
tions were developed and used to ensure some vari-
ety, even in the face of repeated or similar questions.
This attention to detail provided the virtual charac-
ters with believability and facilitated lifelike interac-
tions with the museum visitors. All responses were
typical of young but knowledgeable female twin sis-
ters and incorporated many personal responses as
well as informational ones. The full range of respons-
es included several distinct types of questions, includ-
ing questions related to the museum itself (“What
can I see here?”), questions about the space (“Can I
program a robot here?”), questions about STEM
(“How does a cell phone work?”), questions about the
characters’ technology (“How do you understand
what people are saying?”), questions about the char-
acters’ background and preferences (“What’s your
favorite color?” or “Do you go to school?”). There
were also “off topic” responses to be used if the vir-
tual human did not fully understand a question.
Figure 1. Kiosk for the Twins.
These included requests to repeat or rephrase a ques-
tion, as well as other responses, often using humor to
redirect the conversation to another topic.
Physical Display and VH Twins’ Behaviors
For maximum impact and for more natural interac-
tions, we decided to project the twins at life size on a
semitransparent 5’ 10” screen material that was built
into a rugged kiosk (see gure 1). A full array of body
and facial naturalistic behaviors such as “dgets”
were incorporated to make the twins appear more
humanlike during interaction, as well as during idle
times between visitor interactions. These dgets were
continually enhanced over the project based on
museum staff and visitor anecdotal input.
Interaction with the Twins
An example of the twins interacting with a visitor
where speech recognition was working perfectly is
shown in table 1. In the text column for the visitor
utterances we rst list a (human) transcription of
what the visitor said and then in parentheses the
speech recognizer’s interpretation of what was said,
and the word error rate compared to what the visitor
actually said. In table 2 we show a more typical inter-
action where speech recognition had errors. This
shows that the twins could tolerate moderate inac-
curacy in recognition.
How the Twins Work
The twins have some aspects that were built in
advance, and some that operate in real time as the
user interacts with them. The aspects built in
advance include the character bodies, animations,
textual content, and spoken output. The speech
recognition, natural language understanding, and
dialogue management decisions of what to say are
computed in real time, as is the scheduling and ren-
dering of spoken and gestural outputs. Speech recog-
nition, natural language understanding, and dia-
logue policies also make use of knowledge sources
constructed in advance, using supervised machine
The twins are based on and extend the approach
used in the SGT Star (Artstein et al. 2009). The archi-
tecture is composed of several components that can
run on one or multiple machines. The current ver-
sion of the twins includes the following eight soft-
ware components: The VHMSG message passing sys-
tem; an audio acquisition client; one or more
speech-recognition engines (ASR); a natural language
understanding (NLU) component; a dialogue man-
ager (DM); a behavior sequencer (BML Sequencer);
the Smartbody behavior realization system; and the
Gamebryo game engine.
People interact with the twins by pressing a push
WINTER 2013 17
Table 1. Excerpts from an Interaction between a 9–10 Year Old Male and the Twins.
Speaker Text
1 Visitor: hello (ASR: HELLO, WER: 0.00)
2 Ada: Hey there!
3 Grace: How can we help you?
4 Visitor: what are your names (ASR: WHAT ARE YOUR NAMES, WER: 0.00)
5 Ada: My name’s Ada.
6 Grace: And I’m Grace. We’re your Virtual Museum Guides. With your help, we can suggest exhibits
that will get you thinking! Or answer questions about things you may have seen here.
7 Ada: What do you want to learn about?
8 Visitor: what’s a virtual human (ASR: WHAT’S A VIRTUAL HUMAN, WER: 0.00)
9 Grace: A virtual human looks and acts like a human, but it isn’t really alive.
10 Ada: That’s just a clever way of saying we’re a lot like you, just on this side of the screen.
11 Grace: When you talk to us in Natural Language, we try to make sense of your words, thengure out
what we should say and do in response.
12 Visitor: how old are you (ASR: HOW OLD ARE YOU, WER: 0.00)
13 Ada: We were rst compiled just months ago.
14 Grace: My program finished twenty minutes prior.
15 Ada: You were a test run. But... interaction with our knowledge base does replicate conversation with
nineteen year olds.
16 Grace: Correction. With one nineteen year old, and one nineteen and twenty minutes year old.
17 Visitor: why is there no such thing as white light (ASR: WHY IS THERE NO SUCH THING AS WHITE
LIGHT, WER: 0.00)
18 Ada: It looks white or a certain color because you can’t see the individual colors that make it up.
Your eyes and your brain merge the colors together, as if the color were being mixed.
to talk button and speaking into a microphone. The
audio acquisition client monitors button pushes and
releases, and sends audio from the accompanying
microphone to one or more speech-recognition
engines that are linked to the microphone. The
acquisition client allows arbitrary connections
between audio input devices and recognition
engines. In the current conguration, we have two
microphones attached: a wireless Sennheiser micro-
phone for museum staff to demonstrate the twins to
visitors, and a more rugged table-mounted Shure 522
microphone with integrated push-to-talk button for
visitors to use. Initial testing with Museum visitors
indicated a broad range of voice types and that we
could achieve better performance by running differ-
ent speech models rather than trying to build a “one
size ts all” model to cover all speakers. We are cur-
rently running multiple instantiations of the Oto-
sense speech-recognition engine, developed by the
USC SAIL lab.1The models were adapted with tran-
scribed audio recordings from the museum using
Maximum Likelihood Linear Regression, from origi-
nal children’s models trained on the Colorado Uni-
versity children’s speech database (Hagen, Pellom.
and Cole 2003) and adult speech models trained on
the Wall Street Journal corpus (Paul and Baker 1992).
The acquirespeech client can also communicate with
other speech-recognition engines, including SONIC,
PocketSphinx, and several commercial speech-recog-
nition engines.
The wireless staff microphone can be connected to
a recognition model trained on that staff member or
(by default) to generic adult male and female models.
The visitor microphone is connected to three models
— one for adult males, one for adult females, and one
for children. The acquisition client retrieves output
hypotheses and condence scores from each con-
nected recognizer. The acquisition client sends begin
and end speaking signals (from button pushes) and
the results from the highest condence recognizer to
the language understanding component.
The language understanding (NLU) and dialogue
manager (DM) are both built using the NPCEditor
software (Leuski and Traum 2010). The NLU uses
cross-language information retrieval techniques to
score and rank the set of possible outputs given the
words recognized by ASR module. The dialogue man-
ager uses recent dialogue history and the scores to
decide which response to produce or whether to say
something not directly related to the input.
The NLU works by analyzing the text of the sam-
ple utterances and the text of the responses and cre-
Table 2. Interaction with a 9–10 Year Old Female and the Twins.
Speaker Text
1 Visitor: are you a computer (ASR: THE, WER: 1.00)
2 Grace: Could you say that another way for us?
3 Visitor: are you a computer (ASR: ARE YOU A COMPUTER, WER: 0.00)
4 Grace: Yes, you have caught us. We are so busted.
5 Ada: Our plans for world domination are ruined!
6 Grace: Actually, we’re better described as virtual humans.
7 Visitor: who are you named after (ASR: ARE YOU NAMED AFTER, WER: 0.20)
8 Ada: Our namesakes are Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper.
9 Grace: Yeah, they may be old fashioned names. But both are from the most modern computing
women of their time.
10 Ada: In the 1800s, Ada Lovelace predicted that computers would some day help us create music and
create art.
11 Grace: And in this past century, Grace Hopper created a type of computer program called a compiler,
which helps people tell computers what to do.
12 Ada: It could be said that Ada inspired Grace.
13 Grace: Or that Grace did all the work in which case our names our perfect.
14 Visitor: what is articial intelligence (ASR: TELL ITALIAN, WER: 1.00)
15 Grace: What did you say?
16 Visitor: what is articial intelligence ( ASR: WHAT IS ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, WER: 0.00)
17 Grace: One example of AI, or Articial Intelligence, is 20Q, an online computer activity here at
ComputerPlace that asks you questions to guess what youre thinking.
18 Ada: I wish we’d been programmed to do that. Nah... on second thought, I prefer just answering
your questions.
19 Grace: That takes AI too. Check out 20Q and tell a volunteer what you think we have in common and
what makes us different.
ating a statistical model of the “translation relation-
ship” that denes how the content of an input utter-
ance determines the likely appropriateness of a
response. Specically, it learns how to compute a
conditional likelihood of observing a particular word
in a character’s response given an operator’s utter-
ance (Leuski and Traum 2008). When the NLU
receives a new (possibly unseen) utterance, it uses
this translation information to build a model of what
it believes to be the best response for the utterance.
The NLU then compares this representation to every
stored response to compute a score for each response.
In contrast, a traditional text classication approach
would compare a new question to sample questions
and then directly return the corresponding respons-
es, ignoring the actual text of the response. We have
observed that this “translation-based” classication
approach signicantly increases the effectiveness of
the NLU for imperfect speech recognition (Leuski et
al. 2006). We can see an example of NLU robustness
in table 2, line 7, with a 20 percent word error rate,
but correct response returned.
The DM uses the rankings from the NLU, as well as
context information to decide what to say. In many
cases, this will just mean returning the top-ranked
NLU response. However, the twins have a large but
nite set of responses (currently 158), so the charac-
ters might repeat themselves if the top answer were
always selected. Thus the DM keeps track of local his-
tory and will use a lower-ranked answer if the top
answer has been said recently, and the other answer
has a high enough score. Also, there are cases when
no answer has a high enough score to be deemed
acceptable. This can happen either if the user asks a
question for which there is no good answer, or
speech is not understood well enough by the ASR
module, or when the NLU cannot nd the connec-
tion between the formulation of the question and the
answer, given the training material. When there is no
highly ranked answer, then the DM selects what we
call an “off-topic” response. These can be either
requests for the user to repeat the question (for exam-
ple, line 2 or 15 in table 2), to prompt for information
the twins do know how to provide, to nally giving
up and moving on. Responses can consist of a
sequence of dialogue from both twins, rather than
just a single utterance. The DM keeps a schedule of
pending utterances, and sends them one at a time to
the animation components, waiting for a callback
signal from Smartbody before sending the next one.
If the characters are interrupted by user speech
(either visitor or staff member) before the schedule
has completed, the DM can cancel the remaining
sequence and attend to the new utterance. Finally,
the DM keeps track of how long the system has been
idle, and after a xed threshold time will select an
utterance designed to attract visitors to engage in dia-
The SmartBody (SBM) behavior realization system
(Thiebaux et al. 2008) is used to play audio les and
animate the bodies for Ada and Grace. The input is
in the form of behavior markup language (BML)
(Kopp et al. 2006). SmartBody develops a timing
schedule for audio, viseme mouth movements, and
other gestures, and passes this information to the
renderer through the “Bonebus” communication
protocol. For the twins, the Gamebryo game engine
is used as a renderer.
SmartBody currently only allows BML messages
for a single virtual character. This makes it more chal-
lenging to animate the dialogue of the twins, who
are highly reactive to each other’s dialogue behavior.
For this purpose, we developed the BML Sequencer
(Aggarwal and Traum 2011), which allows artists to
create synchronized behavior sequences for multiple
characters on a timeline, and can convert the
sequences to BML (including recursive BML calls for
other characters at appropriate synchronization
points). The sequencer thus takes the place of a real-
time behavior generator, such as NVBG (Lee and
Marsella 2006) and allows the NPCEditor dialogue
manager to use the same FML/BML messages with-
out caring about whether the animations are created
by artists and retrieved at run time by the BML
sequencer, or created in real time by the NVBG.
Results and Evaluation
We conducted several evaluations of the twins,
including how they were received by visitors, system
performance, and the like. An initial evaluation of
system performance was based on data collected
shortly after the rst deployment, when interaction
with the twins was mostly mediated by handlers at
the Museum of Science (Swartout et al. 2010). This
was followed by an evaluation based on data collect-
ed after the twins began interacting directly with
museum visitors (reported in brief in Traumet al.
[2012]), and with more detail in Aggarwalet al.
[2012)]). An independent, summative evaluation
also was conducted, focusing on the twins’ impact
on museum visitors through user observation and
follow-up interviews (Foutz et al. 2012). Highlights
from these evaluations are presented next.
Speech Recognition
The measure we use for assessing the quality of
speech recognition is word error rate (WER), dened
as the total edit distance in words (additions, dele-
tions, and substitutions) between the actual (tran-
scribed) speech and the speech-recognizer output,
divided by the length of the actual speech; a lower
score implies better performance. For the initial sys-
tem, used by staff members who were familiar with
the system, we had a WER of 0.26 for 6000 utter-
ances collected between February 10 and March 18,
Recognition of museum visitors is much more
challenging, however, because (1) there is a wide
range of visitors, most of whom are children, (2) vis-
WINTER 2013 19
itors can ask anything, (3) visitors are deciding in the
moment what to say, and (4) their speech has fre-
quent disuencies and hesitations. For the visitor
condition we systematically evaluated speech recog-
nition for a small but representative portion of the
twins corpus comprising 1003 utterances recorded
on a single day (in June 2011). The average word
error rate was found to be 57 percent when automat-
ically selecting the model that had the highest con-
dence score. The best performing individual model is
the child model, with a 53 percent overall word error
rate; however, using an oracle that chooses the best
performing model for each utterance lowers the word
error rate to 43 percent.
Response Selection Accuracy
For the initial system used by staff members, almost
70 percent of utterances were known to the system,
and over 80 percent of those were responded to cor-
rectly, with only 2.5 percent answered incorrectly. To
evaluate the effect of the different speech-recognizer
models on the twins’ responses to museum visitors,
we ran the NLU on each of the speech-recognizer
outputs using the same test set of 1003 utterances as
in the previous section. The NLU results were com-
pared to a gold-standard manual annotation, where
each user utterance is marked as either in-domain or
out-of-domain, and those utterances that are in-
domain are mapped to the desired responses (Aggar-
wal et al. 2012).
Of the 1003 utterances in the test set, 843 are iden-
tied in the gold standard as in-domain, while the
remaining 160 are out-of-domain utterances that
should not receive an on-topic response. For the in-
domain utterances the classier should return a cor-
rect response; failing that, an off-topic response (indi-
cating that the classier did not understand the
utterance) is preferable to an incorrect response. For
out-of-domain utterances there is no correct response
available, and therefore the appropriate classier
behavior is to give an off-topic response. NLU per-
formance using the different speech-recognizer mod-
els is given in table 3, with percentages calculated sep-
arately for in-domain and out-of-domain utterances.
Performance on out-of-domain utterances is simi-
lar for all models, correctly identifying these utter-
ances as out-of-domain 71–77 percent of the time.
For the in-domain utterances, NLU performance
matches that of the speech recognizer: the children’s
model yields the most correct responses, slightly out-
performing automatic selection due to the large num-
ber of children’s utterances in the test set. A substan-
tial improvement is gained by using an oracle to
select the appropriate speech-recognition model.
Using manual transcriptions improves on the oracle
performance by 19 percentage points, suggesting that
improvements in speech recognition will lead to
improved overall performance.
Summative Evaluation
The full twins exhibit was subject to a summative
evaluation from an external, independent evaluator,
the Institute for Learning Innovation (ILI). The study
was designed to assess the nature of visitors’ interac-
tions with the twins, and the ways these interactions
affect how children (ages 7–14) and adults relate to
computer science and technology. Overall, 15 indi-
cators were identied across the four impact areas
shown in table 4, and the evaluation demonstrated
that 14 of these indicators were met (Foutz et al.
Two experimental conditions were used. In the
rst, visitors interacted directly with the Twins; in the
second, a visitor and staff member together interact-
ed with the characters. These conditions were tested
using three methods: observation of visitors while
they interacted at the exhibits, in-depth interviews
with visitors after their interaction, and follow-up
online questionnaires 6 weeks after the initial inter-
action. Observational data included group size and
composition, stay time, types of social interaction
(between the target visitor and other visitors and
between the target visitor and museum staff/volun-
teers), usability issues encountered while interacting
with the exhibit, the number and types of questions
that the visitor addressed to the twins, categorization
of the twins’ responses, and visits to an accompany-
Table 3. NLU Performance Using the Different Speech-Recognizer Models
In-domain (N = 843) Out-of-domain (N = 160)
Model Correct % Off-topic % Incorrect % Off-topic % Incorrect %
Child 45 42 13 71 29
Female 39 47 15 72 28
Male 31 50 19 76 24
Autoselect 42 44 14 74 26
Oracle 53 35 12 75 25
Transcription 72 22 6 77 23
ing exhibit showing the science behind the twins.
Interviews were conducted after visitors engaged
with either the twins or the science behind exhibit,
with the goal of collecting a paired observation and
interview with the same participant. Interviews
included open-ended questions and rating scale
questions for use with all visitors designed to elicit
visitor interest, attitudes, awareness, and knowledge
of themes related to the visitor impacts. Children
under 16 years of age were interviewed only after the
data collector obtained permission from an adult
family member in the visiting group.
Observational and interview data were collected at
the museum between July 21 and September 11,
2011; online questionnaires were collected between
August 20 and October 26, 2011. A total of 225 obser-
vations were collected, 180 of which were paired with
interviews (for a refusal rate of 20 percent). A total of
61 follow-up online questionnaires were collected
(for a response rate of 42 percent). The dialogues in
tables 1 and 2 were part of this evaluation.
In this article, we present a selection of the results
from the summative evaluation study showing the
combined results for both conditions and illustrating
each of the four impact areas. In most cases the
trends are the same for the direct and blended con-
dition; however, in some cases there are signicant
differences between the conditions. See Foutz et al.
(2012) for the complete results of the summative
Engagement and Interest
Time spent in the exhibit ranged from 19 seconds to
nearly 18 minutes, with a median time of 3 minutes
and 7 seconds (N= 221) (see gure 2). Quantitative
rating scale questions were used to determine
whether participants had a positive experience at the
exhibit. Participants were asked to rate the state-
ments “Interacting with the exhibit” and “Learning
more about computers by interacting with the
twins” on a four point scale, where 1 was “boring”
and 4 was “exciting.” The overall rating for both
statements was a median of 3, or “pretty good.” Par-
ticipants were asked this same question six weeks lat-
er in the follow-up online questionnaire. Ratings
remained the same six weeks following the original
visit (Wilcoxon Signed Rank Tests).
The same quantitative rating scale was also used to
WINTER 2013 21
Figure 2. Visitors Interacting with the Twins.
Impacts Indicators
Measured Achieved
Increased engagement and interest 5 5
Positive attitude 2 2
Increased awareness 5 4
Increased knowledge 3 3
Table 4. Summative Evaluation.
determine if participants had positive attitudes
towards speaking with the twins. When rating the
statement “Being able to speak with the twins,” the
overall rating for all participants was a median of 3,
or “pretty good.” As with the engagement questions
above, ratings remained the same six weeks following
the original visit (Wilcoxon Signed Rank Tests).
Retrospective Pre-/Postinteraction Ratings
These were used only with adult visitors to assess
change in attitudes as a result of interacting with the
twins. Adults rated their agreement with four state-
ments: (1) “I enjoy being able to speak to a comput-
er as a way to interact with it,” (2) “Having a com-
puter with a personality is a good thing,” (3) “In the
future, there will be new and exciting innovations
with smarter computers,” and (4) “In the future,
interacting with computers will be easier.” Adults
reported signicantly higher ratings for these meas-
ures of attitudes towards computers/virtual humans
directly after their interaction with the exhibit
(Wilcoxon Signed Rank Tests).
Five indicators were used to indicate awareness. For
the statements “I understand what a virtual human
is” and “Women have made important contributions
in the eld of computer science,” adults showed sig-
nicantly higher agreement ratings postinteraction
than retrospective-preinteraction. In answers to
open-ended questions, more than 90 percent of visi-
tors were able to describe the twins as a computer
that acts like a human and recognize interaction
characteristics of the twins. However, only 39 percent
of participants noted aspects of the connection
between the twins and the main subjects of the
exhibit space (computers, communications, robots)
or described the twins as guides to the space. The fact
that more people did not notice this connection is
perhaps ironic, since we had originally thought that
a major role the twins would play would be to inform
visitors about other exhibits in the space. This could
be due to the fact that visitors only received guidance
to other exhibits if they asked about them and that
as the twins’ range of responses grew they became
signicant sources of domain knowledge themselves
and engaging characters in their own right, so visi-
tors were less likely to get responses that referred to
other exhibits. Future versions of the twins could
address this issue if desired by making them more
proactive about suggesting other exhibits to see.
To determine whether study participants recognized
aspects of computer science needed to create a virtu-
al human, open-ended responses were coded for the
presence of ve aspects (communications technolo-
gy, articial intelligence, natural language, anima-
tion/graphics, and nonverbal behavior). Ninety-sev-
en percent of all participants mentioned at least one
aspect, while 73 percent mentioned two or more
aspects. The most commonly mentioned aspect was
the use of natural language, mentioned by 86 percent
of participants. Sixty-four percent of on-site partici-
pants named at least one technology needed to build
a virtual human; this rose to 90 percent in the follow-
up six weeks later. Finally, 84 percent of participants
gained at least one additional understanding about
STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathe-
matics) domains related to the twins, while 59 per-
cent of participants indicated they learned some-
thing new about computers or technology from
interacting with the exhibit.
These results were encouraging to us as they indi-
cated that such virtual human museum guides were
successful as engaging characters and could also be
used to increase interactions with, and understand-
ing of, the museum content.
The next virtual human we present was designed for
a very different purpose than our fun-loving, person-
able, and informative museum guides. SimCoach was
designed to assist the large number of postdeploy-
ment military personnel returning from conicts in
the Middle East with a wide range of physical and
mental health issues. As discussed below, there are a
number of other differences between these virtual
human systems, including user input modality (spo-
ken versus typed), display platform (museum exhibit
versus website), degree of initiative (user versus
mixed system and user). Nevertheless, several archi-
tectural components are used in both systems, and
both share an objective of teaching subject matter
through a personal connection with a virtual human.
Problem Statement and Design
The primary goal of the SimCoach project is to break
down barriers to care (for example, stigma, unaware-
ness, complexity) by providing military service mem-
bers, veterans, and their signicant others with con-
dential help in exploring and accessing health-care
content and, if needed, for encouraging the initiation
of care with a live provider.
Recent advances in computer and information
technology combined with the urgency of the Oper-
ation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Free-
dom conicts have driven development of innova-
tive military-focused clinical assessment and
treatment approaches. This has resulted in a diversi-
ty of novel applications ranging from computerized
prosthetic limbs2to virtual reality exposure therapy
for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Rizzo et al.
2011) to mobile smartphone apps (Luxton et al.
2011) designed to assist patients in self-management
of clinical symptoms between treatment sessions.
However, the Department of Defense (DOD) and U.S.
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) dissemination
and delivery system needs improvement to promote
awareness and access to these evolving and already
established health-care options. The SimCoach proj-
ect aims to address this challenge by supporting users
in their efforts to anonymously seek health-care
information and advice by way of online interaction
with an intelligent, interactive, embodied virtual
human health-care guide.
Rather than being a traditional web portal, the
SimCoach project allows users to initiate and engage
in a dialogue about their health-care concerns with
an interactive VH (sometimes also called a Sim-
Coach). A SimCoach uses speech, gesture, and emo-
tion to introduce the capabilities of the system, solic-
it basic anonymous background information about
the user’s history and clinical/psychosocial concerns,
provide advice and support, present the user with rel-
evant online content, and potentially facilitate the
process of seeking appropriate care with a live clini-
cal provider. An implicit motive of the SimCoach
project is that of supporting users who are in need to
decide to take the rst step toward initiating psycho-
logical or medical care with a live provider.
It is not the goal of the SimCoach project to break
down all of the barriers to care or to provide diag-
nostic or therapeutic services that are best delivered
by a live clinical provider. Rather, SimCoach was
designed to foster comfort and condence by pro-
moting users’ private and anonymous efforts to
understand their situations better, to explore avail-
able options, and initiate treatment when appropri-
ate. Coordinating this experience is a VH SimCoach,
selected by the user from a variety of archetypical
character options (see gure 3), that can answer
direct questions and guide the user through a
sequence of user-specic questions, exercises, and
assessments. This interaction between the SimCoach
and the user provides the system with the informa-
tion needed to guide users to the appropriate next
step of engagement with the system or with encour-
agement to initiate contact with a live provider.
Again, the SimCoach project is not conceived as a
replacement for human clinical providers and
experts, but rather aims to start the process of engag-
ing users by providing support and encouragement,
increasing awareness of their situation and treat-
ment options, and in assisting individuals who may
otherwise be initially uncomfortable talking to a live
care provider.
The options for a SimCoach’s appearance, behav-
ior, and dialogue have been designed to maximize
user comfort and satisfaction, but also to facilitate
uid and truthful disclosure of clinically relevant
information. Focus groups, “Wizard of Oz” studies,
and iterative formative tests of the system were
employed with a diverse cross section of our target-
ed user group to create options for a SimCoach inter-
action that would be both engaging and useful for
this population’s needs. The SimCoach system
underwent formative user testing at regular intervals
throughout the iterative design and development
process. During the period of the project, formative
testing was performed with more than 280 veterans
and clinicians who treat veterans in order to collect
feedback on the technical aspects, content, and
interaction usability of the system to inform the
design. The feedback was used to make changes to
the interaction style, layout, and underlying struc-
ture of the system. Results from these user tests indi-
cated some key areas that were determined to be
important including user choice of character arche-
types across gender and age ranges, informal dia-
logue interaction, and interestingly, a preference for
characters that were not in uniform. Also, inter-
spersed within the program are options that allow
the user to respond to simple screening instruments,
such as the PCL-M (PTSD symptom checklist) that
are delivered in a conversational format with results
fed back to the user in a supportive fashion. These
screening results serve to inform the SimCoach’s cre-
ation of a model of the user to enhance the reliabili-
ty and accuracy of its output to the user, to support
user self-awareness through feedback, and to better
guide the delivery of relevant information based on
this self-report data.
One way in which SimCoach characters attempt
to maintain user engagement is by delivering health-
care content that is relevant to persons with a mili-
WINTER 2013 23
Figure 3. SimCoach Characters: Retired Sergeant Major, Civilian, Aviator, Battle Buddy.
tary background and their families. This was
addressed by leveraging content assets that were orig-
inally created for established DOD and VA websites
specically designed to address the needs of this user
group (for example, Afterdeployment, Military One-
Source, National Center for PTSD). Our early research
with the user group indicated a hesitancy to directly
access these sites when users sought behavioral
health information; a common complaint was a fear
that their use of those sites may be monitored and
might jeopardize advancement in their military
careers or later applications for disability benets. In
spite of signicant efforts by the DOD and VA to dis-
pel the idea that user tracking was employed on these
sites, the prevailing suspicion led many of the users
in our samples to conduct such health-care queries
using Google, Yahoo, and Medscape. To address this
user concern, supplemental content presented by the
SimCoach (for example, video, self-assessment ques-
tionnaires, resource links) is typically “pulled” into
the site, rather than directing users away to those
While the Twins mostly react to visitor questions,
SimCoaches are designed to go beyond purely reac-
tive behavior, and lead the dialogue at some points,
for example, delivering the PCL-M questionnaire.
Further, to enhance engagement and build rapport,
SimCoaches can introduce themselves and engage in
small talk with users. However, SimCoaches must
also be responsive to user input. This is necessary not
only to put users at ease when discussing a sensitive
topic, but also to accommodate the needs of a diverse
user base, where some users will have specic ques-
tions and concerns, but others will prefer to let the
system present suggestions and available options.
This requires mixed initiative, where both the system
and the user can be in control and drive the interac-
tion at different points within a session.
The SimCoach character and interaction design
process led to a virtual human–based application
governed by a set of key requirements: (1) universal-
ly accessible by users, (2) relatively condential and
anonymous, (3) easy to use, (4) able to directly lever-
age web-based health-care resources, (5) able to be
developed and improved by a variety of content
authors, and (6) able to have exible interaction
strategies with mixed initiative to support a variety
of users. The rst four requirements strongly encour-
aged a web-based delivery platform, while the latter
two suggested the need for a exible dialogue man-
agement approach. Developing a web-delivered vir-
tual human capable of mixed-initiative interactions
developed by nontechnical authors became the pri-
mary technical hurdle for the SimCoach effort.
Figure 4. Interaction with SimCoach Character Bill Ford.
How SimCoach Works
Toward achieving the goals outlined above, the Sim-
Coach virtual human architecture builds upon prior
ICT virtual human efforts, including TACQ (Traum et
al. 2007), ELECT-BILAT (Hill et al. 2006) and the
Twins (Swartout et al. 2010). The biggest innovations
from these prior systems are a web-delivered charac-
ter, with more aspects compiled in advance, and a
new dialogue manager to support mixed initiatives.
Figure 4 shows an image of the web client, with the
SimCoach “Bill Ford” to the left, a box below for the
user to type in, and the dialogue history to the right.
Users also have the option to print out a PDF sum-
mary of the SimCoach session. This is important for
later personal review and for access to links that the
SimCoach provided in the session and perhaps to
provide a starting point when dealing with human
clinical care providers and experts. Parts of a dialogue
between Bill and a test subject are shown in table 5.
The primary system components include a web
user interface (UI) for delivering animation video
and accepting user text input; a text-based language
classier for natural language understanding (NLU);
a dialogue manager (DM) for managing conversation
information state and deciding future system
actions; and an action generation process that trans-
lates the system’s dialogue act response to a realized
system action. This action can be a character anima-
tion performance or the insertion of an interactive
web video into the client’s transcript window
Ofine-rendered animation video was elected in
order to keep the web client standards based, in con-
trast to alternative approaches (Gutiérrez, Vexo, and
Thalmann 2002; Rossen, Lind, and Lok 2009) and
because native browser support for real-time 3-D ren-
dering is not universally supported across browsers
and therefore a risk for our target population. Web-
delivered video is highly scalable given available
content delivery networks and modern video codecs,
WINTER 2013 25
1 User <connects>
2 SystemHi there. My name’s William Ford. You can call me Bill.
3 User hello bill
4 System First thing: the suits want me to explain that I’m a virtual human, which means that I’m based on
the real experiences and personalities of actual warghters and their families. Make sense?
5 User Cool
6 SystemSecondly, since I am virtual, if I’m a little slow on the uptake, be patient. Right now, I can pretty
much only talk about PTSD and Depression.
7 User K
8 SystemPhew, glad to have that part done.
9 System From here on out, what we talk about is really up to you. If you have something specic you wanna
talk about, we can talk about that, or if you wanna get to know me more, we can do that too. What
do you think?
10 User what are the symptoms of ptsd
11 SystemEverybody experiences PTSD differently, but there are a few major symptoms I’d like to mention.
Avoiding anything that reminds you of the trauma, or re-living the trauma in some way, like
nightmares orashbacks, are signicant signs of PTSD. Or, you could end up being on constant
alert, have serious difculties sleeping, or getting seriously startled when you really shouldn’t be.
12 System So, is PTSD something youre worried about. I only ask, because you’ve been asking about it.
13User Oh
14 SystemI’m having a bit of comprehension trouble
15 System So, is PTSD something youre worried about. I only ask, because you’ve been asking about it.
16 User no its not
17 SystemDo you want more info about it?
18User no im good
19 SystemOkay. Do you want a link to a website? Or do you want to see a video?
20 User Video
21 SystemThis is a video about PTSD, from afterdeployment.
22 User Thanks
23 SystemYou are welcome
Table 5. Interaction Between Bill Ford and an Evaluation Subject.
saccade, head nods, shakes, and blinks,
for example (step 5). Additionally, we
rely on commercial off-the-shelf soft-
ware for speech audio analysis (step 2;
FaceFX — OC3 Entertainment), 3-D
modeling and rendering (steps 6 and 7;
Autodesk Maya) and H.264 video
encoding (step 8; FFmpeg). To allow
greater levels of scale, the bottleneck to
this process — preparing and render-
ing the 3-D scene with animation —
has been parallelized such that for an
animation job resulting in Nframes, N
/ ksubjobs are forked and merged at
step 8, where kis a congurable param-
eter set appropriately for the size of the
cluster available (currently set to k=
Between July and December 2011, a
total of 111 participants took part in
user testing sessions of an alpha ver-
sion of the SimCoach character. Partic-
ipants were invited to take part in the
testing if they were over the age of 18
and were an active military service
member, veteran, or family member of
a service member or veteran. The par-
ticipants were asked to complete a
demographic survey before interacting
with one of the SimCoach characters,
Bill Ford (Retired Sergeant Major). Fol-
lowing the interaction, participants
completed a postinteraction survey
and structured interview exploring
their thoughts on the interaction, the
character, the content and probing for
issues and potential changes to the sys-
tem. Eighty-eight males and 23
females, with a mean age of 41 years
(range 18–76 years old) took part in the
user testing sessions. The majority of
the participants were discharged serv-
ice members (60 percent, n= 62). The
remainder of the participants were
active duty (n = 21), reserve (n= 15), or
retired (n= 4) service members, and 8
percent were family members of a serv-
ice member or veteran (n = 9). Sixty-
one percent of participants were mem-
bers of the U.S. Army (n= 68), 30
percent were U.S. Navy (n= 23) or U.S.
Marine Corps (n= 10), and the nal 9
percent were members of the U.S. Air
Force (n= 9) and National Coast Guard
(n= 1). Overall the response to the
interaction with the SimCoach charac-
ter was positive. More than 60 percent
allowing for high quality with mini-
mal bandwidth requirements.
Our approach to address the notori-
ously challenging task of mixed-initia-
tive dialogue is to model dialogue man-
agement using a forward-looking
reward seeking agent (Morbini et al.
2012), similar to that described by Liu
and Schubert (2010), but with support
for complex dialogue interaction while
keeping the dialogue policy authoring
process accessible to those without
expertise in dialogue systems. Our dia-
logue manager combines several meth-
ods of dialogue reasoning to promote
the twin goals of exible, mixed-initia-
tive interaction and tractable authoring
by domain experts and creative
authors. Authoring involves design of
local subdialogue networks with pre-
conditions, effects, and rewards for spe-
cic topics. The dialogue manager can
locally optimize policy decisions, by
calculating the highest overall expect-
ed reward for the best sequence of sub-
dialogues from a given point. Within a
subdialogue, authors can craft the spe-
cic structure of interaction.
The dialogue manager is composed
of four main modules. The rst mod-
ule is the information state (Traum and
Larsson 2003), a propositional knowl-
edge base that keeps track of the cur-
rent state of the conversation. A sec-
ond module is a set of inference rules
that allows the system to add new
knowledge to its information state,
based on logical reasoning. Forward
inference facilitates policy authoring
by providing a mechanism to specify
information state updates that are
independent of the specic dialogue
context. The third module is an event-
handling system that allows the infor-
mation state to be updated based on
user input, system action, or other
classes of author-dened events (such
as system timeouts). Finally, the fourth
module is a set of operators. Operators
represent local dialogue structure, and
can also be thought of as reusable sub-
dialogues. Each state within the subdi-
alogue can include a reward for reach-
ing that state and ultimately
determine what to do when there is
more than one applicable operator.
Operators have preconditions and
effects. Effects specify changes to the
information state. The preconditions
dene when an operator can be acti-
To support content development for
nontechnical subject matter experts
and other support staff, an authoring
system was developed to support cre-
ation and validation of character data
sets for this architecture. While the
authoring tool was not fully instantiat-
ed prior to the development of the
original SimCoach virtual character,
that process provided lessons learned
that drove design and development.
The authoring tool, called Roundtable,
is itself a web application and provides
capabilities that empower many types
of authors and team makeups. The sys-
tem provides the ability to select from
a set of congured 3-D character mod-
els, model the dialogue policy through
behavior templates and more direct
subdialogue editing, train the natural
language understanding component,
rene realized system action language
and render animation performances,
and test text-based and fully animated
interactions within the same browser
environment (gure 5). The complete
character data set can be exported and
deployed to a live, highly available
server environment.
Finally, an animation workow sys-
tem was developed to support a variety
of content authors not uent in 3-D
modeling and character animation.
This subsystem utilizes a distributed
computational grid and work queue to
execute the following pipeline steps in
batches at authoring time: (1) genera-
tion of speech audio from text (option-
al), (2) analysis of speech audio and
generation of visemes schedule, (3) lex-
ical and semantic analysis of text, (4)
generation of behavior schedule, (5)
realization of visemes and behavior
schedule on a skeleton as animation
keyframes, (6) import of keyframe data
onto skinned rig, (7) rendering of 3-D
scene with animation keyframes as
stills, and (8) encoding of stills as video
with merged audio. This pipeline uses
existing ICT virtual human compo-
nents such as a rule-based nonverbal
behavior generation (Lee and Marsella
2006) (steps 3 and 4) and the Smart-
Body animation system (Lee and
Marsella 2006, Thiebaux et al. 2008)
for fused behavior realization with
additional procedurally driven gaze,
of the participants responded that the SimCoach
character, Bill Ford, was well informed, caring, and
trustworthy. Sixty-seven percent of participants stat-
ed they felt comfortable providing the SimCoach
with personal information about themselves. Only 5
percent of respondents felt that Bill gave the percep-
tion of being dishonest or unreliable. Interestingly,
participants often referred to the character by his rst
name when describing their experience with the sys-
tem, rather than talking about the program, the sys-
tem, or the character. Users reported that the charac-
ter responded appropriately (61 percent) and
provided the appropriate information (55 percent).
The majority of users felt SimCoach could be suc-
cessful because of anonymity, condentiality, and
The current version of SimCoach is presently under-
going beta testing with a limited group of test-site
users. Results from this user-centered testing will serve
to advance the development of a SimCoach system
that is expected to undergo a wider release in 2013.
WINTER 2013 27
Figure 5. Roundtable Web-Based Authoring System.
As the system evolves, it is our view that engagement
would be enhanced if the user was able to interact
with the SimCoach repeatedly over time. Ideally,
users could progress at their own pace over days or
even weeks as they perhaps develop a “relationship”
with a SimCoach character as a trusted source of
health-care information and feedback. However, this
option for evolving the SimCoach comfort zone with
users over time would require signicant content
production for revisits such that the SimCoach
would be capable of describing the information
acquired from previous visits and to build on that
information as in a human relationship. Moreover,
the persistence of a SimCoach memory for previous
sessions would also require the user to sign into the
system with a user name and password. Such func-
tionality might be a double-edged sword as anonymi-
ty is a hallmark feature to draw in users who may be
hesitant to know that their interactions are being
stored, even if it resulted in a more relevant, less
more. Indeed, multiple studies (Gratch
et al. 2007a; Huang, Morency, and
Gratch 2011) have found that people
are accepting of such signals from vir-
tual humans and that they readily
adopt their usual social assumptions
and behaviors in such interactions. We
believe this nding has profound
implications for how computers might
positively affect the lives of people
now and in the future.
The twins and SimCoach characters
share the goals of disseminating infor-
mation and conveying knowledge
based on user needs, interests, and
questions. They seek to emote and to
establish a more powerful connection
with users than would be possible with
traditional UI elements, like buttons or
printed text. While we are strongly
opposed to simply replacing human
teachers and health providers with vir-
tual counterparts, we see no reason
why virtual humans can’t become part
of the chorus of inuences people
encounter every day. For example, a
broad goal of informal science educa-
tion is to inspire interest in science —
to increase the number of children
who want to pursue science-related
careers as well as to raise awareness of
the scientic challenges that face the
modern world. Just as ctional charac-
ters have inuenced people since the
introduction of novels, plays, and
most recently television, we believe
virtual humans could be used to
enhance the pursuit of important soci-
etal goals. The studies of Ada and
Grace revealed that many visitors told
other people about their experience.
Visitors ended up speaking with others
about virtual humans outside of the
museum walls and said they remem-
bered their experience six weeks later.
Surveys suggested that visitors liked
the twins’ senses of humor and became
less concerned about the downside of
technology after meeting them. We
nd these self-reported outcomes
intriguing and certainly worthy of fur-
ther attention.
We are continuing to investigate
questions related to the impacts of vir-
tual humans on learning, information
seeking, and behavior change. Just as
the enthusiasm and passion of top
educators can be infectious, we believe
virtual humans can achieve similar
effects. Similarly, we think virtual
humans can achieve some of the
effects of the best counselors, who are
able to create comfortable social
atmospheres and convey genuine
empathy. To achieve these goals, it is
clear that continued research is need-
ed in a variety of AI areas, such as nat-
ural language processing, emotional
and cognitive modeling, nonverbal
behavior generation, and pedagogical
reasoning. Further, since they only
receive the utterances and questions of
their users, the virtual humans pre-
sented in this article have a necessari-
ly limited view of the users interacting
with them. Along with many in the
intelligent virtual agents research
community, we are also aggressively
pursuing research on advanced user
sensing and assessment to enable
more meaningful interactions and
greater understanding of user needs.
All of this together suggests a new
breed of virtual humans is coming —
virtual humans that can not only
entertain and educate you, but also
understand you in a way that comput-
ers never have before. We hope that
through judicious and psychologically
informed use of these advanced tech-
nologies that this line of research will
open up entirely new ways to use AI to
benet society.
The work presented here was spon-
sored by the National Science Founda-
tion under Grant 0813541, by the
Defense Center of Excellence for Psy-
chological Health and Traumatic Brain
Injury, and by the US Army. We also
thank the inspiring staff and volun-
teers at the Museum of Science,
Boston, as well as the extremely cre-
ative virtual human and animation
teams at ICT. Any opinions, content,
or information presented does not nec-
essarily reect the position or the poli-
cy of the United States Government,
and no ofcial endorsement should be
1. See
2. See ScienceProg, 2007, Embedded Elec-
tronics in Prosthetic Limbs. (
redundant, and perhaps more mean-
ingful interaction with a SimCoach
over time. Likely, this would have to be
a clearly stated “opt-in” function. Giv-
en some of these hurdles, it became
evident that content authoring should
be sufciently exible and accessible to
clinical professionals to enhance the
likelihood that the program will evolve
based on other care perspectives and
emerging needs in the future.
Although this project represents an
early effort in this area, it is our view
that the clinical aims selected can still
be usefully addressed within the limits
of current technology. However, we
expect that SimCoach will continue to
evolve over time based on data collect-
ed from ongoing user interactions with
the system and advances in technolo-
gy. Along the way, this work will afford
many research opportunities for inves-
tigating the functional and ethical
issues involved in the process of creat-
ing and interacting with VHs in a clin-
ical or health-care support context. As
advances in computing power, graph-
ics and animation, articial intelli-
gence, speech recognition, and natural
language processing continue to devel-
op at current rates, we expect that the
creation of highly interactive, intelli-
gent VHs for such clinical purposes is
not only possible, but probable.
In this article we have described two
virtual human systems that seek to
engage people in meaningful ways in
order to support pursuit of their own
goals. These systems leverage tech-
niques from articial intelligence,
modern 3-D gaming environments,
and computer animation to simulate
realistic social interactions. We argued
that the social affordances of virtual
humans have the potential to dramat-
ically improve the capabilities of com-
puters to produce successful outcomes.
For example, to interact with a virtual
human, users can rely upon more nat-
ural methods of communication,
whether it be speech or typed input.
Further, embodied virtual humans
greatly expand the channel of commu-
nication back to the user through the
use of nonverbal behaviors, facial
expressions, speech intonation, and
WINTER 2013 29
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William Swartout is director of technolo-
gy for USC’s Institute for Creative Tech-
nologies (ICT) and a research professor of
computer science at USC. Swartout has
been involved in the research and develop-
ment of articial intelligence systems for
more than 35 years. His particular research
interests include virtual humans, explana-
tion and text generation, knowledge acqui-
sition, knowledge representation, intelli-
gent computer-based education, and the
development of new AI architectures. In
July 2009, Swartout received the Robert S.
Engelmore Award from AAAI for seminal
contributions to knowledge-based systems
and explanation, research on virtual
human technologies and their applica-
tions, and service to the articial intelli-
gence community, He is a Fellow of the
AAAI, has served on the Executive Council
of the AAAI, and is past chair of the Special
Interest Group on Articial Intelligence
(SIGART) of the Association for Computing
Machinery (ACM).
Ron Artstein is a research scientist at the
Institute for Creative Technologies, Univer-
sity of Southern California. He received his
Ph.D. in linguistics from Rutgers University
in 2002. His research focuses on the collec-
tion, annotation, and management of lin-
guistic data, analysis of corpora, and the
evaluation of implemented dialogue sys-
Eric Forbell currently directs the research
and development of the SimCoach virtual
human platform at USC’s Institute for Cre-
ative Technologies, bringing virtual charac-
ters to the web to support a variety of appli-
cations most notably in health care. His
current focus is on building creational tools
to make virtual humans commodities in the
applications marketplace. Forbell received
two B.A. degrees from Bowdoin College in
computer science and neuroscience.
In her ten years as an evaluator, Susan
Foutz has conducted front-end, formative,
summative, and remedial evaluations of
informal learning expereinces including
museum and library programs, exhibits,
multimedia presentations, and websites.
Her research areas include public engage-
ment with science, positive youth develop-
ment, and the use of technology in infor-
mal learning settings. She holds a BA in
anthropology and sociology from Ohio
Wesleyan University and an MA in museum
studies from the Univrsity of Nebraska-Lin-
coln. She is an independent evaluation con-
sultant based in Annapolis, MD.
H. Chad Lane is a research scientist at the
University of Southern California’s Institute
for Creative Technologies. His research is
highly interdisciplinary and involves the
application of entertainment and intelli-
gent technologies to a variety of challenges,
including education and health behavior. A
signicant portion of this work investigates
the many roles virtual humans can play in
virtual learning environments, such as
coach and colearner, as well as in the con-
text of mobile educational games. Lane
received his Ph.D. in computer science from
the University of Pittsburgh in 2004. Cur-
rently, he serves on the Articial Intelli-
gence in Education (AIED) Society executive
committee and as program cochair for the
AIED 2013 Conference.
Belinda Lange is a research scientist at the
Institute for Creative Technologies and a
research assistant professor in the School of
Gerontology at the University of Southern
California. She received her Ph.D. and
degree in physiotherapy from the Universi-
ty of South Australia and her science degree
from Flinders University. Lange’s research
interests include the use of interactive video
game and virtual reality technologies for
motor rehabilitation, exergaming, cognitive
assessment, postoperative exercise, and vir-
tual human character interactions. She is on
the board of directors of the International
Society for Virtual Rehabilitation and is an
associate editor for the Journal of Computer
Animation and Virtual Worlds (CAVW).
Jacquelyn Ford Morie was instrumental in
the founding of the USC Institute for Cre-
ative Technologies, where she was senior
research scientist from 2000–2013. She has
two decades of expertise in immersive envi-
ronments and their intersection with social
media. She is currently a visiting scholar at
Stanford University and founder and chief
scientist at All These Worlds, LLC, building
custom virtual worlds for health, training,
art, and research.
Dan Noren was program manager of Cahn-
ers Computer Place at the Museum of Sci-
ence, Boston, during the design, develop-
ment, and installation of the twins at the
museum. Now retired from the Museum of
Science, he is an independent consultant
for virtual human knowledge base content,
exhibit design, and operational support.
Albert “Skip” Rizzo is a clinical psycholo-
gist and associate director at the University
of Southern California Institute for Creative
Technologies. He is also a research professor
with the University of Southern California’s
Department of Psychiatry and at the Uni-
versity of Southern California Davis School
of Gerontology. Rizzo conducts research on
the design, development, and evaluation of
virtual reality systems targeting the areas of
clinical assessment, treatment, and rehabil-
itation across the domains of psychological,
cognitive, and motor functioning in both
healthy and clinical populations.
David Traum, Ph.D., is a principal scientist
at the Institute for Creative Technologies
(ICT), and a research assistant professor in
the Computer Science Department, both at
the University of Southern California. He
completed his Ph.D. in computer science at
University of Rochester in 1994. His
research focuses on collaboration and dia-
logue communication between human and
articial agents.
... Recent studies have explored eHealth technologies to deliver mental health interventions in a cost-effective and scalable way [6]. Specifically, there has been an increasing interest in using conversational agents (CAs) to provide support for a wide range of mental health issues, including autism spectrum disorders [7], schizophrenia [8], depression [9][10][11], and anxiety disorders [9,10,12]. CAs emphasize interactivity, which can lead to better user engagement and more effective support over time. ...
... Recent studies have used CAs to provide support for a wide range of mental health issues including autism spectrum disorders [7], schizophrenia [8], depression [9][10][11], and anxiety disorders [9,10,12]. Specifically, CAs can be particularly useful in mental health assessment. ...
... Other prior work has also explored the use of CAs to provide educational support. Swartout et al [11] created SimCoach to educate veterans and their families about PTSD and depression. SimCoach aims to provide tailored knowledge based on users' needs, preferences, and concerns. ...
BACKGROUND Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious public health concern. However, individuals with PTSD often do not have access to adequate treatment. A conversational agent (CA) can help to bridge the treatment gap by providing interactive and timely interventions at scale. Toward this goal, we have developed PTSDialogue — a CA to support the self-management of individuals living with PTSD. PTSDialogue is designed to be highly interactive (e.g., brief questions, ability to specify preferences, and quick turn-taking) and support social presence to promote user engagement and sustain adherence. It includes a range of support features, including psychoeducation, assessment tools, and several symptom management tools. OBJECTIVE This paper focuses on the preliminary evaluation of PTSDialogue from clinical experts. Given that PTSDialogue focuses on a vulnerable population, it is critical to establish its usability and acceptance with clinical experts before deployment. Expert feedback is also important to ensure user safety and effective risk management in CAs aiming to support individuals living with PTSD. METHODS We conducted semi-structured interviews with clinical experts (N=10) following their interactions with PTSDialogue. We analyzed interview data using a qualitative interpretivist approach resulting in a bottom-up thematic analysis. RESULTS Our data establish the feasibility and acceptance of using a CA to support self-management of individuals with PTSD. We have also assessed different features, functionalities, and interactions supported by PTSDialogue. We then used this data to identify design requirements and guidelines for a CA aiming to support individuals with PTSD. Experts specifically noted the importance of empathetic and tailored CA interactions for effective PTSD self-management. They also suggested steps to ensure safe and engaging interactions with PTSDialogue. CONCLUSIONS Based on interviews with experts, we have provided design recommendations for future CAs aiming to support vulnerable populations. The study suggests that well-designed CAs have the potential to reshape effective intervention delivery and help address the treatment gap in mental health.
... Background. This research builds on findings with virtual agents showing that conversational agents using recorded human videos can compellingly convey personal experiences [16]. These and other types of interactive digital narratives better increase learning and engagement compared to traditional learning formats, such as readings or didactic presentations [9]. ...
Mentoring promotes underserved students’ persistence in STEM but is difficult to scale up. Conversational virtual agents can help address this problem by conveying a mentor’s experiences to larger audiences. The present study examined college students’ \((N = 138)\) utilization of, an online platform featuring virtual agent-mentors that were self-recorded by sixteen real-life mentors and built using principles from the earlier MentorPal framework. Participants completed a single-session study which included 30 min of active interaction with, sandwiched between pre-test and post-test surveys. Students’ user experience and learning gains were examined, both for the overall sample and with a lens of diversity and equity across different, potentially underserved demographic groups. Findings included positive pre/post changes in intent to pursue STEM coursework and high user acceptance ratings (e.g., expected benefit, ease of use), with under-represented minority (URM) students giving significantly higher ratings on average than non-URM students. Self-reported learning gains of interest, actual content viewed on the platform, and actual learning gains were associated with one another, suggesting that the platform may be a useful resource in meeting a wide range of career exploration needs. Overall, the platform shows promise in scaling up aspects of mentoring to serve the needs of diverse groups of college students.KeywordsVirtual AgentsMentoringDialog SystemsSTEM OutreachHispanic-Serving
... Key findings for the third research question indicated that mixed methods research design was the most predominant methodology adopted by most studies in the field, followed by the experimental design that used small sample sizes of varied linguistic ability in both instructional and informal language learning contexts. However, as uncovered by our analysis, IVA integration, in the L2 education field is still relatively under-explored, suggesting the need for an interdisciplinary orientation in future research that will focus on IVA instructional design features and the underlying pedagogy for their deployment in EFL contexts [63]. Such research could be directed toward the following areas: ...
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Since its debut in the field of education nearly three decades ago, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been considered as a powerful tool to facilitate new paradigms for instructional design and innovative educational practice in the form of intelligent tutoring systems, chatbots, teaching robots and adaptive learning systems among others. Recent technological advances in the adjacent areas of natural language processing, machine learning and computer graphics focusing primarily on design features that can improve their human-like qualities of naturalness and believability as human interlocutors have also amplified new application opportunities for Intelligent Virtual Agents (IVAs) or Animated Pedagogical Agents (APAs) within the area of Intelligent Computer-Assisted Language Learning (ICALL). Although AI-powered IVAs hold the potential to enhance the learning process in nearly any knowledge domain and personalize automation in teaching by embodying different roles in the learning environment, strikingly few studies have empirically attempted to assess IVAs impact on L2 learners’ academic achievement when learning English as a Foreign (EFL) so far. This study addresses this issue via a systematic review of relevant interventionist IVA studies that were conducted in EFL settings and published within the 2015-2020 timeframe examining IVAs key affordances, major barriers in their adoption for language learning purposes, and the CALL research trends currently prevalent on the topic. Pedagogical implications for the effective implementation of IVA technology in L2 contexts are discussed and future research avenues in the area are highlighted.
... Artificial intelligence (AI) is a means of embedding human intelligence into computer programs that can think, work, and make judgments as humans do [47]. Recently, AI has been increasingly used in the field of education [48], and the application of AI in language learning has received considerable attention [49]. Currently, powered by AI technology and automatic speech recognition (ASR) technology, there are various language learning tools for EFL speaking practice, such as ASR-based websites [25,50], intelligent personal assistants (IPAs) [51], and AI chatbots [52,53]. ...
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In recent decades, the rapid development of artificial intelligence (AI) technology has led to the increasing use of AI speaking apps in foreign language learning. This research investigates the impact of social network-based interaction on students’ English speaking practice with the assistance of AI speaking apps in China. During the summer vacation, 70 students from different Chinese universities and majors were recruited for the experiment. They were required to practice speaking skills with AI apps for five weeks and were divided into two groups. Participants in the experimental group were encouraged to engage in various interactive activities when practicing speaking with AI apps, while those in the control group were asked to use AI speaking apps without interaction. Data were collected through questionnaires and semi-structured interviews as well as pre-and post-tests. The results indicated that students generally held positive attitudes towards interactive activities when using AI apps to practice their spoken English. The finding also showed that social network-based interaction can effectively improve learners’ speaking skills in the AI context. This study contributes to the research on the implementation and promotion of AI speaking apps with social networking and extends the previous studies on network-based interaction to the AI-assisted learning environment. An investigation of interactions based on Chinese social network-based platforms such as WeChat can be further applied to other social networking platforms such as Facebook or WhatsApp in different cultural contexts for AI-assisted speaking practice.
... Asynchronous Video Interviews (AVIs) are more common, where questions are posed by an interface. The use of intelligent virtual agents in AVIs allows for a more interactive and immersive experience than traditional voice and text-based systems [33], [34]. A job interview is aimed to analyze the hiring feasibility of an interviewee, while a training interview gives accurate feedback about their performance. ...
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The user experience of an asynchronous video interview system, conventionally is not reciprocal or conversational. Interview applicants expect that, like a typical face-to-face interview, they are innate and coherent. We posit that the planned adoption of limited probing through follow-up questions is an important step towards improving the interaction. We propose a follow-up question generation model (followQG) capable of generating relevant and diverse follow-up questions based on the previously asked questions, and their answers. We implement a 3D virtual interviewing system, Maya, with capability of follow-up question generation. Existing asynchronous interviewing systems are not dynamic with scripted and repetitive questions. In comparison, Maya responds with relevant follow-up questions, a largely unexplored feature of irtual interview systems. We take advantage of the implicit knowledge from deep pre-trained language models to generate rich and varied natural language follow-up questions. Empirical results suggest that followQG generates questions that humans rate as high quality, achieving 77% relevance. A comparison with strong baselines of neural network and rule-based systems show that it produces better quality questions. The corpus used for fine-tuning is made publicly available.
Background: Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious public health concern. However, individuals with PTSD often do not have access to adequate treatment. A conversational agent (CA) can help to bridge the treatment gap by providing interactive and timely interventions at scale. Toward this goal, we have developed PTSDialogue-a CA to support the self-management of individuals living with PTSD. PTSDialogue is designed to be highly interactive (eg, brief questions, ability to specify preferences, and quick turn-taking) and supports social presence to promote user engagement and sustain adherence. It includes a range of support features, including psychoeducation, assessment tools, and several symptom management tools. Objective: This paper focuses on the preliminary evaluation of PTSDialogue from clinical experts. Given that PTSDialogue focuses on a vulnerable population, it is critical to establish its usability and acceptance with clinical experts before deployment. Expert feedback is also important to ensure user safety and effective risk management in CAs aiming to support individuals living with PTSD. Methods: We conducted remote, one-on-one, semistructured interviews with clinical experts (N=10) to gather insight into the use of CAs. All participants have completed their doctoral degrees and have prior experience in PTSD care. The web-based PTSDialogue prototype was then shared with the participant so that they could interact with different functionalities and features. We encouraged them to "think aloud" as they interacted with the prototype. Participants also shared their screens throughout the interaction session. A semistructured interview script was also used to gather insights and feedback from the participants. The sample size is consistent with that of prior works. We analyzed interview data using a qualitative interpretivist approach resulting in a bottom-up thematic analysis. Results: Our data establish the feasibility and acceptance of PTSDialogue, a supportive tool for individuals with PTSD. Most participants agreed that PTSDialogue could be useful for supporting self-management of individuals with PTSD. We have also assessed how features, functionalities, and interactions in PTSDialogue can support different self-management needs and strategies for this population. These data were then used to identify design requirements and guidelines for a CA aiming to support individuals with PTSD. Experts specifically noted the importance of empathetic and tailored CA interactions for effective PTSD self-management. They also suggested steps to ensure safe and engaging interactions with PTSDialogue. Conclusions: Based on interviews with experts, we have provided design recommendations for future CAs aiming to support vulnerable populations. The study suggests that well-designed CAs have the potential to reshape effective intervention delivery and help address the treatment gap in mental health.
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This paper describes the model of social practice as a theoretical framework to manage conversation with the specific goal of training physicians in communicative skills. To this aim, the domain reasoner that manages the conversation in the Communicate! \cite{jeuring} serious game is taken as a basis. Because the choice of a specific Social Practice to follow in a situation is non-trivial we use a probabilistic model for the selection of social practices as a step toward the implementation of an agent architecture compliant with the social practice model.
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In the four days of the Robotville exhibition at the London Science Museum, UK, during which the back-projected head Furhat in a situated spoken dialogue system was seen by almost 8 000 visitors, we collected a database of 10 000 utterances spoken to Furhat in situated interaction. The data collection is an example of a particular kind of corpus collection of human-machine dialogues in public spaces that has several interesting and specific characteristics, both with respect to the technical details of the collection and with respect to the resulting corpus contents. In this paper, we take the Furhat data collection as a starting point for a discussion of the motives for this type of data collection, its technical peculiarities and prerequisites, and the characteristics of the resulting corpus.
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The rapid growth in the use of smartphones has opened a new world of opportunities for use in behavioral health care. Mobile phone software applications (apps) are available for a variety of useful tasks to include symptom assessment, psychoeducation, resource location, and tracking of treatment progress. The latest two-way communication functionality of smartphones also brings new capabilities for telemental health. There is very little information available, however, regarding the integration of smartphone and other mobile technology into care. In this paper, we provide an overview of smartphone use in behavioral health care and discuss options for integrating mobile technology into clinical practice. We also discuss limitations, practical issues, and recommendations. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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We present Hassan, a virtual human who en-gages in Tactical Questioning dialogues. We describe the tactical questioning domain, the motivation for this character, the specific ar-chitecture and present brief examples and an evaluation.
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In this paper, we describe methods for building and evaluation of limited do-main question-answering characters. Sev-eral classification techniques are tested, in-cluding text classification using support vector machines, language-model based retrieval, and cross-language information retrieval techniques, with the latter having the highest success rate. We also evalu-ated the effect of speech recognition errors on performance with users, finding that re-trieval is robust until recognition reaches over 50% WER.
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We describe a text classification approach based on statistical language modeling. We show how this approach can be used for several natural language processing tasks in a virtual human system. Specifically, we show it can applied to language understanding, language generation, and character response selection tasks. We illustrate these applications with some experimental results. 1. natural language understanding (NLU) module that interprets the text of the user’s utterance and converts it into some internal representation; 2. dialog manager (DM) module that analyzes the interpretation and selects the appropriate response; 3. natural language generation (NLG) module that converts the internal representation to the text of the response. 1
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To increase the interest and engagement of middle school students in science and technology, the InterFaces project has created virtual museum guides that are in use at the Museum of Science, Boston. The characters use natural language interaction and have near photoreal appearance to increase and presents reports from museum staff on visitor reaction. Keywordsvirtual human applications-photoreal characters-natural language interaction-virtual museum guides-STEM-informal science education
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The BML sequencer is a tool to allow artists to create SmartBody compliant BML [4] animation sequences for multiple virtual humans. SmartBody [3] allows for complex behavior realization, synchronizing speech recordings with non-verbal behaviors by using the Behavior Markup Language (BML) [4]. However, there remain two problems for using BML and smartbody to achieve the vision that an artist has for animating the character: the authoring problem and multi-party behavior syncronization. The BML Sequencer addresses both.
Conference Paper
We report on our efforts to prepare Ada and Grace, virtual guides in the Museum of Science, Boston, to interact directly with museum visitors, including children. We outline the challenges in extending the exhibit to support this usage, mostly relating to the processing of speech from a broad population, especially child speech. We also present the summative evaluation, showing success in all the intended impacts of the exhibit: that children ages 7–14 will increase their awareness of, engagement in, interest in, positive attitude about, and knowledge of computer science and technology.
We introduce the information state approach to dialogue management, and show how it can be used to formalize theories of dialogue in a manner suitable for easy implementation. We also show how this approach can lead to better engineering of dialogue management components of dialogue systems, allowing for separate development of modular system fundamentals, dialogue theories, and domain-specific dialogue systems, in a manner where components can more easily be reused. TrindiKit is a tool instantiating the lowest level, and allowing straightforward implementation of dialogue theories formalized using the information state approach. We briefly describe several dialogue systems built using TrindiKit, and how components have been successfully further developed and reused in other projects.