Embodied Avatar Project: Taking Intelligent Assistants to a Whole New Level

By | Jan 28, 2013

US Customs and Border Protection is field testing the Embodied Avatar as a potential state-of-the-art lie detection unit. The avatar, described in a recent Wired article as a "smoothly rendered, computer-generated young man," asks travelers at border crossings basic questions and then analyzes the responses. If the avatar - or rather the software and hardware that gathers the data and performs the analysis - identifies deception, it flags the traveler for further questioning by agents. The goal of the research and field test is to help analysts understand more about human behavior as it pertains to lying.

The avatar-based system seems almost deceptively simple. It uses three sensors - an infrared camera, a high-definition video camera, and a microphone - to gather "microdata" that includes eye and pupil changes, subtle tics and body movements, and small shifts in voice pitch and tone that together may indicate someone is lying.

Midsize companies may be more accustomed to seeing and using avatars in a more customer-friendly setting, such as the tireless greeter at the convention booth, or as a knowledgeable source for information on the company website. IT managers and analysts maintain these systems with an eye toward improving the customer experience, or ensuring that it effectively imparts company knowledge and information. The bounds on that sort of application are moderately easy to define and understand.

The specialized use of an avatar-based intelligent assistant in a security application should intrigue midsize companies. The Embodied Avatar project may show that it is possible to use intelligent assistants in a more difficult, high-value domain with less defined boundariess and multiple sources of data input. If such avatars become commercialized and generalized, midsize companies could have access to a new type of security tool. The benefit would be that the same level of security could be offered to all types of companies, large or small. Further, success in this project could cause companies and government agencies to look at other high-value domains that might benefit from an avatar-based intelligent solution. Certainly, the IT analyst responsible for maintaining systems across the complex enterprise could use an intelligent avatar assistant to field vague calls and help pinpoint system problems around the clock.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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