…Developers at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) have turned their attention to adding emotional intelligence to the AI they install in their virtual agents—animated, human-like interfaces that engage a user in conversation. The result is “empathic” virtual agents that can read, understand, and respond to human behavior.
I spoke to Albert “Skip” Rizzo, a psychologist and director of medical virtual reality at ICT, about what’s going on at the Institute. He told me all about ICT’s latest development in artificial emotional intelligence, a congenial counsellor called Ellie. Ellie evolved from the ICT’s early work on virtual human agents, which started in 1999.
“A lot of our funding has come from the military in order to build virtual humans they can use for training purposes,” Skip told me. “So for example, we developed applications that can train someone to negotiate with an Afghan warlord, or to understand cultural sensitivities and to interact with somebody from another country, particularly Iraq or Afghanistan.”
Recognizing a connection between negotiation skills and therapy, the team at ICT decided to leverage that early technology to put virtual agents in a civilian clinical setting. “The idea was to create virtual patients, so that a training clinician could mess up with a bunch of virtual characters before they got their hands on a live one,” Skip said.
“What we found was really surprising. In spite of the fact that the character didn’t look that real — she was pretty rigid and so forth — when medical school psychiatry residents interviewed her, once they got a couple of good answers from her all of a sudden they became engaged in the process of interviewing just as if it was a real person,” Skip explained.
“So we learned from that, that the appearance of a character is less important than the level of interaction. And therein is the kernel of the whole thing about AI.”
That idea is at the heart of the ICT’s DARPA-funded SimSensei project. SimSensei is the new generation of AI: virtual agents that display high levels of artificial emotional intelligence and can engage convincingly in back-and-forth interactions with people…
The team at ICT used existing research on nonverbal expression to come up with a list of telling behavioral signals for Ellie to look out for, including 3D head position and orientation, body posture, intensity and frequency of facial expressions and self-adaptors (such as self grooming or touching parts of the body). In addition to physical signals, Ellie was also programmed to identify and analyze voice parameters…
“We’re taking something that had an original military funded purpose, but now translating it to a mental health civilian application, and that’s really what excites me the most,” Skip added.
I wonder what the FBI and CIA are doing with derivatives of this program. Highly sensitive interrogation – just before you get waterboarded, eh?
RTFA for lots more detail. Should be some way to use this for sex, as well. 🙂