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Cultural Agents
and Avatars
While not bound to the cultural
sector alone, it may be useful to add to
this list assistance for disabled users,
such as offering a sign language agent
to visitors with hearing problems, or
talking heads which read the display
text for those with visual impairments
or even dyslexia.
Problems the Technology Addresses
Avatar/agent technology applications address the personification of users and other
actors in a virtual environment. As virtual environments are more widely employed, the
demand for ways to smooth the human/machine interface becomes more crucial.The
recognition that improvements in the interactions between real users and the virtual
environment enhance task performance and enjoyment will drive forward new develop-
The technology offers increased flexibility in how it can generate responses to the
user.The ability of users to choose between various avatars with different personae in
many applications is indicative of the move towards making interactions more user
Intelligent systems able to create and follow user profiles should offer better
communication. Avatars are unlikely to be the final solution to this, but they can certainly
move the state of the art on in terms of increased flexibility and personalisation.
Specialised interface devices make avatar technology more immediate, the sensory
interaction richer, and increase the modality of participation in virtual worlds. Users have
not only a representative in the virtual world, but also an increasing sense of immersion in
it. Such applications are of interest to the cultural heritage sphere, when the purpose is to
offer the user an experience of studying a cultural object, or a mechanism to develop
which otherwise is kept under access restrictions.
H o w I t Wo r k s
Avatars can take many forms.The rendering of avatars has improved dramatically in
parallel with improvements in graphical and other related technologies.Three-dimen-
sional avatars are now the norm. Some avatars (such as Digital Space Traveller
, started in
1996) may transmit the actual voice of the person they present, and text-to-speech
(TTS) technologies have made it possible for agents to `speak'.
Avatars are not static, nor need their appearance be fixed. Users often design how they
The Conversive AnswerAgent
Perhaps the best-known example of this is the animated Assistant in Microsoft Office. Users can choose
between a bicycle, a paperclip, a cat, a dog, a globe (and more) to interact with while creating and editing
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