Local News

Local Company Creates PCs With Personality

Posted March 16, 1999 6:00 a.m. EST

— These days, many people spend as much time with computers as they do with people.

Computers are only machines, but what if they had "personality"? Scientists atResearch Triangle Instituteare developing just such a program that is both entertaining and educational.

WRAL technology reporterTom Lawrencehad a conversation with Roxanne and virtual brother Rocky.

After a quick introduction, he asked Rocky what is the meaning of life.

Rocky responded, "Can you ask me another question, and I'll get back to you on that."

The computers bring personality and emotion to the computer. The avatars, or virtual humans, interact with real people.

"First I listen to your questions and interpret their meaning," Roxanne said. "I always keep track of where we are in the conversation."

RTI's technology calledAVATALK, allows spoken dialogue including emotion.

"Right now we have about 250 of these emotions that we can use in development, and it's very easy to add new ones," says Dr. Curry Guinn, a research engineer.

AVATALK's future is perhaps strongest in education. Dr. Robert Hubal, a learning research analyst, says one use for the technology could be "in a classroom for disabled students, students who might need help with emotional feedback; autistic for instance."

The institute will soon market AVATALK as a training program using synthesized speech.

The virtual humans respond with visual emotions based on how you speak to them, but Hubal says computers are far from intelligent.

"It's not like the Hal in 2001 where it takes over the world, and has its own personality," Hubal said.

Someday soon, personal computers could be talking back to their users.

Research Triangle Institute will use AVATALK to train some of its own employees. However, the program could be put in commercial use soon.