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AI Technology

Advanced Chatbot Could Help With Social Awkwardness 84

Posted by samzenpus
from the but-he-cannot-speak-it-good-like-we-do dept.
mikejuk writes "Researchers at MIT Media Lab are working on an automated personal-computer-based system designed to help people improve interpersonal and conversational skills. The software is called MACH, short for My Automated Conversation coacH (pdf). It makes use of a computer-generated onscreen face to simulate interactive conversations. It performs facial, speech, and behavior analysis and synthesis to emulate human-to-human responses. At the end of the session it provides the user with feedback on their performance. Using a webcam the program can analyze facial expressions, including smiling and head gestures while its voice recognition system analyzes not only what you say but also how you say it and notes non-verbal vocalizations. As feedback you watch the video side-by-side with the analysis of your behavior — see the video of it in action. It has already been shown to improve job interview techniques and other potential uses are coaching in public speaking and dating."
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Advanced Chatbot Could Help With Social Awkwardness

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  • by PhrostyMcByte (589271) <phrosty@gmail.com> on Monday September 02, 2013 @02:13AM (#44736285) Homepage

    I guess some social skill is better than none, especially for those with serious disorders. This could have benefits.

    Yet, somehow this reminds me of Comcast's CableCard activation line. Every time I've called it, I get someone sounding exactly the same... an guy with a truly bizarre, unplaceable and somewhat feminine accent and an equally WTF speech pattern.

    Some outsourced call center is training every one of their employees to sound exactly the same, to the point that I've called from multiple time zones, at all hours of the day, and from different numbers/accounts and am still not entirely sure if they have more than a single sleepless extraterrestrial behind the phone. Creepy as hell. And this type of app sounds like just the thing to do that.

    • by Guest316 (3014867)
      >Yet, somehow this reminds me of Comcast's CableCard activation line. Every time I've called it, I get someone sounding exactly the same
      Not unlike historical switchboard operators who were given standardized elocution training and all used to sound much the same.
    • by GrumpySteen (1250194) on Monday September 02, 2013 @09:46AM (#44738201)

      Some outsourced call center is training every one of their employees to sound exactly the same, to the point that I've called from multiple time zones, at all hours of the day, and from different numbers/accounts and am still not entirely sure if they have more than a single sleepless extraterrestrial behind the phone.

      Close, but they aren't intentionally training them to speak that way.

      Let me introduce you to IELTS [wikipedia.org], the International English Language Testing System.

      American companies like Comcast and the company I work for have call centers in other countries. Because of the language barrier, language testing is a big part of the hiring process. For my company, employees are also retested yearly and approximately 30% of their pay rate is a "language bonus" which they lose if they don't pass that test. This is not uncommon.

      Training in written and spoken English is up to the employee. The company may provide some reimbursement for the expense, but they generally won't provide the courses.

      English courses come in two types; one where you actually learn English and the other where you learn to pass the test. The latter is cheaper, so lots of people will go for it. Those are the people with the bizarre, unplaceable and someone feminine accent and equally WTF speech patterns.

    • Sure you're not speaking to an AI? Or maybe one person handling many conversations through text-to-speech interfaces?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 02, 2013 @02:19AM (#44736331)

    Just saying....

  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Monday September 02, 2013 @02:53AM (#44736525)

    If these geeks want dates, I think they'd get more benefit out of a Bathbot.

  • by abies (607076) on Monday September 02, 2013 @03:01AM (#44736563)

    I have no doubt that making a practice speech and then watching yourself on camera can help. People were doing it for ages. Question is if this 'bot' bolted on top of simple visual/audio feedback loop adds any value (or maybe it makes it worse then trying to analyse your performance without hindrance).

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The paper has a diagram showing a graph of % smile over time. Is this calibrated for those of us who suffer from b**chy resting face / resting a**hole face [youtube.com]?

    • by Jmc23 (2353706)
      You should have listened to your mother when she told you to stop making those faces or you would be stuck with it for the rest of your life!
  • This is an automated form of sales training. That could be quite marketable.

  • by Neo-Rio-101 (700494) on Monday September 02, 2013 @03:32AM (#44736695)

    How about a chat-bot that simulates a night down at the local-pub ...or better yet, a robot that takes anti-social people there so they can get away from their computer?

  • DR SBAITSO, by creative labs, please enter your name: fuck

    hello fuck,
    I am here to help you. say whatever is on your mind freely. our conversation will be kept in strict confidence. memory contents will be wiped off after you leave. So, tell me about your problems.

    >fuck.

    I will get parity error if you keep talking in this asdf way.

    >fuck

    BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP
    PARITY

    >lets talk about sexy stuffs.

    How old are you?

    >13

    wait a few more years kid..

    • Wow, Dr. Sbaitso is a true classic. The Creative Labs software bundle included also some other cool apps, like the talking parrot. I wish HW manufacturers still would ship that kind of funky software with their products.
  • Now, instead of just communicating with each other -- sometimes awkwardly, I guess -- humans are going to be taught by a computer how to talk to other humans.

  • by OhANameWhatName (2688401) on Monday September 02, 2013 @03:39AM (#44736733)
    ... that geeks will start breeding.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      That is the only way to save the planet at this point.

      captcha: tracked LOL.

      • by Type44Q (1233630)

        That is the only way to save the planet at this point.

        I get it; sort of like Bán Tre [wikipedia.org]:

        "It became necessary to destroy the town to save it," a United States major said today.

    • by antdude (79039)

      Isn't that a good thing? We need more geeks to bite chickens' heads off. ;)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 02, 2013 @03:55AM (#44736791)

    Socially awkward nerds build machine for socially awkward nerds to learn to be less awkward.

  • There are plenty of unemployed sociologist grads. So why does this need automating? Focus on making a bot that does dishes first.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Focus on making a bot that does dishes first.

      You mean a dishwasher? I'm pretty sure that already exists.

  • The MIT site: http://web.media.mit.edu/~mehoque/MACH.htm [mit.edu] for the project has a bit more content in the form of before and after vids. The site links to http://web.media.mit.edu/~mehoque/SignUpForMACH.htm [mit.edu] if you are interested in try MACH out.

    Is MACH available for me to use?
    We would love to make the system available to the general mass for free. Here are the caveats.
    MACH was developed as part of a PhD thesis consisting of more than half a million lines of code. The current prototype works on a personal laptop. However, it is an extremely complicated system that we were able to put together with 2 years of effort.
    In order to make a public release with seamless interaction experience, we would need to do more testing.
    It is possible to make MACH work in a computer browser and make it widely accessible. However, that will require hiring 2-3 full time software engineers with 6-12 months of development and test period. Currently, we are looking for resources to make that happen. If you are in a position to support our work, or know of any funding agencies who might be interested to fund us, please do get in touch (mehoque at media dot mit dot edu) with us. In the mean time, please feel free to write/tweet to AutismSpeaks, NLMFF, Autism Science Foundation
    I am remote and I would like to participate in your studies.
    Recruiting participants is the most challenging part of our research and we appreciate your interest. However, with our current experimental set up, it makes it very difficult for us to recruit participants unless they are local. We hope to address this issue by developing an online version of our system.
    I would like to be notified when the system becomes available to public.
    Please sign up here. http://goo.gl/LDwb8 [goo.gl]

  • by Culture20 (968837) on Monday September 02, 2013 @08:43AM (#44737865)
    Finally!
  • Same idea, but with real people behind the avatar.

  • by peter303 (12292)
    A compuer app to help peole who spend too much time on computers and video games.
  • The Mole Man creating an entire underground society of fake humans in which to hang out doesn't sound so stupid now, does it John Byrne!

  • If human interaction is what you need practice with, a computer is a poor substitute.
    • Better than nothing.
      I think the point is that if you are too shy to talk to a real person,
      at least you can "talk" to the bot and not be embarrassed by how badly you suck at conversation.
      If it helps anybody, I'm all for it.
  • I know one that has spent time with the web and irc chatbots. It has helped his social awkwardness immensely.
  • I happen to prefer it when people fidget and look at their feet during a conversation. It gives me the impression that they're more emotionally involved in the conversation. It demonstrates a natural respect for my opinion.

    Just because the extroverts on tv have conversations with eye contact doesn't mean it's the "correct" approach.

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