Fall 2017Frank Duran

Virtually Speaking

Fall 2017Frank Duran
Virtually Speaking

Lab Studies Interaction with Virtual Agents

Whether you like talking to machines or not, artificial agents likely will be part of our future. The Advanced aGent ENgagement Team (AGENT) at UTEP is working to make sure your interaction with these virtual personalities is a worthwhile experience.

“Artificial agents are an increasing part of our lives, whether you are shopping online or renting a car, and I, for one, want to see agents that are more useful to me, more natural to me and avoid having to make me adapt the way I talk,” said David Novick, Ph.D., UTEP professor of engineering leadership. “To do that, we run experiments about what is natural or what creates rapport, what creates engagement, and in order to run those experiments we have to build systems where we can actually use them.”

Novick formed the AGENT team in 2012, and since then they have published 20 papers on interaction in immersive and virtual environments. They have created tools for building agent-based systems and used these tools to develop several applications.

UTEP College of Business Administration student Monica Pena has experienced many of the team’s creations, but has a couple of favorites, including a haunted house and a quest to help the wizard Merlin destroy a monster.

“The Merlin demo was definitely a good one as I was able to help him in his quest of destroying a monster by actually calling out spells with my own voice,” she said. “I walked through a forest alongside Merlin, who really did look like the character. I still remember the stress and reality of seeing a huge monster standing in front of me as I anxiously screamed the spells.”

Novick said the goal of the work is to help educate students and advance research.

“It’s exciting and fun, but there’s a serious educational component,” he said. “There’s a serious research component. We are really doing fundamental research about the nature of interaction.”

 - Lauren Macias-Cervantes