the animated actor, responds to humans with lifelike verbal
responses and gestures.
Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is constantly
testing new ideas and new technologies - giving us a glimpse of
the possibilities, however far off, their real-life applications
may be. During his first visit to the lab in 1996, Alan Alda was
introduced to Gandalf, a Robin Hood-like computer character designed
to serve as Alan's guide to the solar system. Relying on a helmet
and gloves that measured Alan's eye and hand gestures, as well as
voice recognition software, the computer interacted with Alan as
personally as possible. The idea behind Gandalf, explained the Media
Lab's Justine Cassell, was to redefine computers as "actors in our
social world," and not just boxes on a desktop.
Today, Gandalf has evolved into REA, a virtual employee of Virtual
Realty, eager to provide personal tours for house-hunting clients.
Alan can talk with REA without any of the sensors Gandalf required,
thanks to cameras that record his body movements. As with Gandalf,
REA has some trouble understanding Alan's deep voice, but after
some brief chitchat she and Alan begin their virtual walk-through.
plays with Sam, a computer generated playmate who encourages
storytelling and creativity in his human companions.
program Cassell is developing allows children to play with a computer
character named Sam. Sitting on either side of a special sensor-equipped
dollhouse, Sam knows when his live playmate, Geneva, has placed
dolls in a certain room and appears to "share" these toys with her.
Sometimes Sam tells her a little story, or he listens when Geneva
wants to share one of her own. Studies have shown that interacting
with Sam inspires children to be more creative, which, for Cassell,
is more than enough reason to keep on bridging the gap between people
more on this topic, see the web feature:
FRONTIERS Profile: Justine Cassell