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Book ChapterDOI

Context Awareness in Mobile Relational Agents

17 Sep 2007-pp 354-355

TL;DR: The development of virtual agents designed to draw users into personal and professional relationships with them represents a growing area of research, and mobility and context awareness represent important directions of research for these relational agents.
Abstract: The development of virtual agents designed to draw users into personal and professional relationships with them represents a growing area of research [1]. Mobility and context awareness represent important directions of research for these relational agents, since they offer unique affordances for relationship development. A mobile/wearable agent has the potential to be with a user for a significant period of time, and frequency of contact alone has been shown to be associated with increased solidarity between people. The ability to sense some aspects of the user's environment (context awareness) may also provide mobile agents with unique relational affordances. Automatically recognizing and commenting on situations in the user's life can amplify many relational perceptions, including familiarity, common ground, solidarity and intimacy. In addition, an agent's ability to proactively interrupt and help a user in a situation that is automatically sensed by the agent may lead to increased perceptions of trust and caring by the user.
Topics: Context awareness (61%), Mobile agent (51%)

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Fig 1. Mobile Virtual Agent InterfaceFig 1. Mobile Virtual Agent Interface
Context Awareness in Mobile Relational Agents
Timothy W. Bickmore, Daniel Mauer and Thomas Brown
Northeastern University College of Computer and Information Science
360 Huntington Ave WVH202, Boston, MA 02115
(bickmore, daniel)@ccs.neu.edu, brown.tho@neu.edu
http://www.ccs.neu.edu/research/rag/
1 Introduction
The development of virtual agents designed to draw users into personal and profes-
sional relationships with them represents a growing area of research [1]. Mobility and
context awareness represent important directions of research for these relational
agents, since they offer unique affordances for relationship development. A mo-
bile/wearable agent has the potential to be with a user for a significant period of time,
and frequency of contact alone has been shown to be associated with increased soli-
darity between people. The ability to sense some aspects of the user’s environment
(context awareness) may also provide mobile agents with unique relational affor-
dances. Automatically recognizing and commenting on situations in the user’s life can
amplify many relational perceptions, including familiarity, common ground, solidarity
and intimacy. In addition, an agent’s ability to proactively interrupt and help a user in
a situation that is automatically sensed by the agent may lead to increased perceptions
of trust and caring by the user.
2 Experimental Platform
We have developed a general purpose
relational agent interface for use on
handheld computers such as PDAs (Fig.
1). The animated agent appears in a
fixed close-up shot, and is capable of a
range of nonverbal conversational be-
havior, including: facial displays of
emotion; head nods; eye gaze move-
ment; eyebrow raises; posture shifts and
visemes. These behaviors are synchro-
nized in real time with agent output ut-
terances, which are displayed in a text
balloon rather than using speech, for
privacy reasons. User inputs are con-
strained to multiple choice selections at
the bottom of the display.

Interaction dialogues are scripted in an XML-based hierarchical state-transition
network, which allows for the rapid development and modification of system behav-
ior. Scripts consist primarily of agent utterances, the allowed user responses to each
agent utterance, and instructions for state transitions based on these responses and
other system events (timers, sensor input, etc.). Scripts are authored using a visual de-
sign tool, and are then processed using the BEAT text-to-embodied-speech engine [2],
which automatically adds specifications for agent nonverbal behavior. In addition,
visemes are generated using an extension of the freeTTS text-to-speech engine.
Interruption behavior can be very flexibly defined using a variety of wait states and
state transitions conditioned on events. During specified wait states, the PDA’s dis-
play shuts off, and the interface remains dormant until some condition is met, while
sensor inputs and other background processes remain active. Example wake up con-
ditions include specific times of day, changes in user behavior as measured by sensor
input, or hardware key presses by the user.
The initial application domain for the handheld agent is exercise promotion using
an integrated 2D accelerometer enabling the agent to tell whether a user is currently
walking at a moderate intensity or not (based on a speed calibrated for each user).
3 Pilot Study on Awareness and Social Bonding
In order to explore the relational efficacy of context awareness, we conducted a small
study to compare a mobile context aware agent with an otherwise identical agent
without sensing ability. Both agents attempted to motivate users to walk more, but in
one condition (AWARE) the agent could sense whether the user was walking at mod-
erate intensity or not and automatically provided feedback to the user whenever they
finished a walk, while in the other condition (NON-AWARE) the user had to explic-
itly tell the agent when they were starting and ending a walk. The study was a coun-
ter-balanced within-subjects design experiment in which each treatment lasted four
days. Eight males, aged 19-23, participated in the study.
Results indicated that context awareness led to greater user-agent bonding
(F(1,4,)=8.6, p<.05), but less walking (minutes of moderate intensity walking,
F(1,4)=74.3, p<.001) in study participants. This difference in walking behavior may
have been due to perceptions of low reliability in the sensing mechanism, or to the
psychological effect of making a commitment to the NON-AWARE agent when walk
starts were declared. Ongoing work will address these issues in future versions.
Acknowledgements. This work was supported by NIH National Library of Medicine
grant R21LM008553.
References
1. Bickmore, T. and Picard, R.: Establishing and Maintaining Long-Term Human-Computer
Relationships. ACM Transactions on Computer Human Interaction 12, 2 (2005) 293-327.
2. Cassell, J., Vilhjálmsson, H., and Bickmore, T.: BEAT: The Behavior Expression Animation
Toolkit. SIGGRAPH '01 (2001) 477-486.
Citations
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17 Jan 2011-
TL;DR: The paper presents a method enabling virtual agents to reason about their environment, understand the interaction capabilities of other participants, own goals and current state of the environment, as well as to include these elements into conversations.
Abstract: Research on embodied conversational agents' reasoning and actions has mostly ignored the external environment. This papers argues that believability of such agents is tightly connected with their ability to relate to the environment during a conversation. This ability, defined as awareness believability, is formalised in terms of three components - environment-, self- and interaction-awareness. The paper presents a method enabling virtual agents to reason about their environment, understand the interaction capabilities of other participants, own goals and current state of the environment, as well as to include these elements into conversations. We present the implementation of the method and a case study, which demonstrates that such abilities improve the overall believability of virtual agents.

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Cites background from "Context Awareness in Mobile Relatio..."

  • ...…interactions goes beyond traditional focus on modeling the visual co-presence [Gerhard et al. 2005], Context awareness (perceiving other agents/objects in static environment) [Bickmore et al. 2007] and communication style (e.g. short vs long utterances, usage of specific vocabulary) of the agents....

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  • ...2005], Context awareness (perceiving other agents/objects in static environment) [Bickmore et al. 2007] and communication style (e....

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TL;DR: This review critically assesses the progress of relational agent development and research since their inception in 2005, proposes new areas of research and considers the potential for their exploitation in virtual worlds.
Abstract: Relationships between people who meet in virtual worlds are common and these relationships can be long term, in some cases lasting a life-time. Although relationships formed in virtual worlds have invited a lot of recent interest, surprisingly little work has been done on developing computer agents and non-player characters that can actively participate in such relationships. The focus of this review is relational agents, agents that can build long term socio- emotional relationships with users. In virtual worlds, such agents are just starting to emerge; they are more common in other environments but remain few and far between. This review critically assesses the progress of relational agent development and research since their inception in 2005, proposes new areas of research and considers the potential for their exploitation in virtual worlds.

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TL;DR: The results of the study indicate that virtual agents that appear resource bounded, are aware of their environment, own interaction capabilities and their state in the world, agents that can adapt to changes in the environment and exist in correct social context are those that are being perceived as more believable.
Abstract: In this paper we investigate the concept of believability and make an attempt to isolate individual characteristics features that contribute to making virtual characters believable. As the result of this investigation we have produced a formalisation of believability and based on this formalisation built a computational framework focused on simulation of believable virtual agents that possess the identified features. In order to test whether the identified features are, in fact, responsible for agents being perceived as more believable, we have conducted a user study. In this study we tested user reactions towards the virtual characters that were created for a simulation of aboriginal inhabitants of a particular area of Sydney, Australia in 1770 A.D. The participants of our user study were exposed to short simulated scenes, in which virtual agents performed some behaviour in two different ways while possessing a certain aspect of believability vs. not possessing it. The results of the study indicate that virtual agents that appear resource bounded, are aware of their environment, own interaction capabilities and their state in the world, agents that can adapt to changes in the environment and exist in correct social context are those that are being perceived as more believable. Further in the paper we discuss these and other believability features and provide a quantitative analysis of the level of contribution for each such feature to the overall perceived believability of a virtual agent.

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Dissertation
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01 Jan 2011-
TL;DR: This thesis explains how AIML specific rules and virtual agents’ interactions with subject matter experts help to dynamically improve the conversational corpus of virtual agents via imitation learning and validate the impact of supplying agents with awareness believability.
Abstract: This thesis introduces believable conversational agents as an engaging and motivational learning tool for teaching ancient history and culture in virtual worlds. Traditional approaches are lacking engagement, interactivity and socialisation, features that are of tremendous importance to modern students (digital natives). At the same time, modern 3D visualisations primarily focus on the design side of the given space and neglect the actual inhabitants of these ancient places. As a consequence, in such historical or cultural 3D visualisations it is difficult to engage the students in the learning process and to keep track of students’ learning progress. Furthermore, this approach neglects the knowledge carriers (inhabitants of the ancient site) which are an important part of a particular culture and played an important role in significant historical events. Embodied conversational agents envisaged by this thesis for teaching ancient history and culture must be believable as they act in highly dynamic and heterogeneous environments such as 3D Virtual Worlds with both human and autonomous agent participants. In these virtual environments participants behave autonomously and frequently interact with each other and with software agents. Therefore, embodied conversational agents must know their surroundings, be aware of their own state in the virtual environment and possess a detailed knowledge of their own interactions as well as the interactions of other participants. We label such agent abilities as “awareness believability” and develop the necessary theoretical background and the formalisation of this concept. We also discuss the IB (Interactive, Intelligent and Believable) framework that implements awareness believability using the combination of the Virtual Institutions technology, the AIML engine and the visualisation layer of Virtual Worlds. Through a detailed literature review on virtual agents’ believability we identified the ability to continuously learn new conversational skills as another important aspect of being believable. Thus, this thesis also explains how AIML specific rules and virtual agents’ interactions with subject matter experts help to dynamically improve the conversational corpus of virtual agents via imitation learning. To validate the impact of supplying agents with awareness believability we conducted a number of case studies specific to the domain of ancient history and culture. The studies confirmed that the identified awareness features are indeed making the agents perceived as more believable. Furthermore, the studies provide important evidence in favour of using virtual agents for improving the knowledge of students in the domain of ancient history and culture.

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References
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Journal ArticleDOI
Timothy Bickmore1, Rosalind W. Picard2Institutions (2)
TL;DR: The meaning of “human-computer relationship” is investigated and techniques for constructing, maintaining, and evaluating such relationships are presented, based on research in social psychology, sociolinguistics, communication and other social sciences.
Abstract: This research investigates the meaning of “human-computer relationship” and presents techniques for constructing, maintaining, and evaluating such relationships, based on research in social psychology, sociolinguistics, communication and other social sciences Contexts in which relationships are particularly important are described, together with specific benefits (like trust) and task outcomes (like improved learning) known to be associated with relationship quality We especially consider the problem of designing for long-term interaction, and define relational agents as computational artifacts designed to establish and maintain long-term social-emotional relationships with their users We construct the first such agent, and evaluate it in a controlled experiment with 101 users who were asked to interact daily with an exercise adoption system for a month Compared to an equivalent task-oriented agent without any deliberate social-emotional or relationship-building skills, the relational agent was respected more, liked more, and trusted more, even after four weeks of interaction Additionally, users expressed a significantly greater desire to continue working with the relational agent after the termination of the study We conclude by discussing future directions for this research together with ethical and other ramifications of this work for HCI designers

876 citations


"Context Awareness in Mobile Relatio..." refers background in this paper

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Proceedings ArticleDOI
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Abstract: The Behavior Expression Animation Toolkit (BEAT) allows animators to input typed text that they wish to be spoken by an animated human figure, and to obtain as output appropriate and synchronized nonverbal behaviors and synthesized speech in a form that can be sent to a number of different animation systems. The nonverbal behaviors are assigned on the basis of actual linguistic and contextual analysis of the typed text, relying on rules derived from extensive research into human conversational behavior. The toolkit is extensible, so that new rules can be quickly added. It is designed to plug into larger systems that may also assign personality profiles, motion characteristics, scene constraints, or the animation styles of particular animators.

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