This year I will be working on the European research project ARIA VALUSPA. The project ARIA VALUSPA and a sister project KRISTINA both work on virtual agents that can behave in a socially intelligent manner. I am very fortunate to join ARIA at this time because the two projects met up at a joint seminar at the Dagstuhl Castle to exchange their insights, progress, promising approaches, and create new (research) friendships. The Dagstuhl is a computer science centre in the south-west of Germany. It offers a very relaxed and secluded location where computer scientists can come together to discuss and work on their research.
The ARIA VALUSPA project (Artificial Retrieval of Information Assistants – Virtual Agents with Linguistic Understanding, Social skills, and Personalised Aspects) aims to create Artificial Retrieval of Information Assistants (ARIAs) that are capable of holding multi-modal social interactions in challenging and unexpected situations. The technology developed in the project will be show-cased in a virtual agent called Alice, from the book Alice in Wonderland. A user can interview Alice about her unique perspective on the story.
The KRISTINA project aims to develop technologies for a human-like socially competent and communicative agent. It runs on mobile communication devices and serves for migrants with language and cultural barriers in the host country. The agent they develop will be a trusted information provision party and mediator in questions related to basic care and healthcare for migrants.
The two projects clearly have many similarities which allow for us to learn from each other. However, during discussions we did identify some interesting differences. The ARIA project is working on a natural interaction system that focusses more on “social banter” such as real-time interruptions. These interruptions can be made by the user (the user starts talking when the agent is speaking) and by the agent (the agent starts talking when the user is speaking). By making the agent respond in an appropriate manner to interruptions, we hope for more natural “small talk” to occur. The KRISTINA project is working on a task based system that relies more on information retrieval and transfer. A migrant can use their system to ask questions about their new home country, for example how healthcare is organised.
During the joint seminar, demos from both projects were shown. A notable demo for the ARIA project was presented by Angelo Cafaro, who showed the handling by the virtual agent of user interruptions was realised on the behaviour generation level. For the KRISTINA project, a notable demo was presented by Dominik Schiller, who showed how their agent could emphatically react to a depressed user. Additionally, there was an interesting invited keynote by Patrick Gebhard from the DFKI lab. He detailed their Virtual Scene Maker and how it can be used when designing real time interactive systems. After his talk he demoed the system and the ease of configurability was impressive. Yet, the most impressive demo was held by Gerard and Angelo who in about an hour managed to connect the Greta platform from the ARIA project to the agent web-interface from the KRISTINA project. This really showed the importance and effect of standards (i.e. FML and BML)!