You may be Present in Two Places at a Time

Technology.am (May 16, 2009) — If you have ever wished you could be in two places at once? And it may be you’ve had the desire to create a copy of yourself that could stand in for you at a meeting, freeing you up to work on more pressing matters.

lab2Good news for you, a research project called Lifelike, might be a little closer to fulfill your fantasy.

Project LifeLike is a collaboration between the Intelligent Systems Laboratory (ISL) at the University of Central Florida (UCF) and the Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL) at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) that aims to create visualizations of people, or avatars, that are as realistic as possible.

The EVL team, headed by Jason Leigh, is tasked with getting the visual aspects of the avatar just right. On the surface, this seems like a pretty straightforward task–anyone who has played a video game that features characters from movies or professional athletes is used to computer-generated images that look like real people.

But according to Leigh, it takes more than a good visual rendering to make an avatar truly seem like a human being. “Visual realism is tough,” Leigh said in a recent interview. “Research shows that over 70% of communication is non-verbal,” he said, and is dependent on subtle gestures, variations in a person’s voice and other variables.

To get these non-verbal aspects right, the EVL team has to take precise 3-D measurements of the person that Project LifeLike seeks to copy, capturing the way their face moves and other body language so the program can replicate those fine details later.

The ISL team, headed by Avelino Gonzalez, focuses on applying artificial intelligence capabilities to the avatars. This includes technologies that allow computers to recognize and correctly understand natural language as it is being spoken as well as automated knowledge update and refinement, a process that allows the computer to ‘learn’ information and data it receives and apply it independently.

The end goal, Gonzalez says, is that a person conversing with the avatar will have the same level of comfort and interaction that they would have with an actual person. Gonzalez sees the aims of Project LifeLike as fundamental to the field of artificial intelligence.

Gonzalez and Leigh believe it may be possible for school children to interact with avatars of historical figures, or for job seekers to hone their interview skills by practicing with an avatar in the future.

Both researchers agree that in the coming decades, many of the ‘people’ we interact with won’t actually be people at all.

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