Characters Everywhere

Barbara Hayes-Roth, Stanford University & Extempo Systems, Inc

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University March 16, 2001

Going about our business in the world is easy and successful, in part because most enterprises have a great user interface -- people. They offer expertise for helping us, by playing familiar roles as our guides, sales assistants, teachers, etc. They make it easy for us to get the assistance we want or need, by playing our complementary roles as visitors, shoppers, students, etc. Of course, people communicate with us the easy way, in natural language conversation, complemented by meaningful gestures and facial expressions. Often, the people who help us also get to know us. They remember us, give us personalized service, and make us feel good. Finally, people can bring color and warmth to even our mundane transactions, with their personalities, social engagement, and individual stories.

By contrast, today's online world is a cold and lonely place. We go there alone, wandering around in a self-service environment, with no one to help us, support us, or keep us company.

How can we bring the high-function/high-touch experience of interacting with people to an online world whose great promise rests on automation? I propose that we should staff the Internet-with smart interactive characters, who will play the same variety of helpful roles people play in the real world, engage us with similar social and communications skills, and enrapture us with their vivid and distinctive personas.

In this talk, I'll discuss the state of the art of interactive characters-a highly interdisciplinary enterprise combining business, technology, psychology, and art. I'll demonstrate a few illustrative characters. And I'll try to entice many of you to create and deploy characters of your own.

Barbara Hayes-Roth is a computer scientist, psychologist, author, inventor, and entrepreneur. In 1996, she founded Extempo, Inc., which makes smart, interactive characters, providing automated, personalized two-way communications on the Internet. Dr. Hayes-Roth invented the intellectual property underlying Extempo's technology and products. In February, 2000, she was awarded Patent # 6031549 for "System and Method of Directed Improvisation by Computer Characters." She has several other patents under review. Dr. Hayes-Roth also teaches and directs research related to interactive characters and other sorts of intelligent agents in the Computer Science Department at Stanford University. Prior to that, she conducted research on human memory and cognition at the Rand Corporation and at Bell Laboratories. Dr. Hayes-Roth has published widely and given invited talks at conferences and seminars in the U.S. and abroad. She holds a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from the University of Michigan. She is a Fellow of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence.

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