Virtual border guards? It looks like they’re here. Phys.org published an article describing a field test being run by the Romanian border guard that utilizes virtual agent technology developed at the University of Arizona. The project sounds very similar to the virtual humans work being done by USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT). I spoke with Arno Hartholt of the ICT last October and wrote about their Virtual Human Toolkit.
I wasn’t previously aware of the University of Arizona’s virtual agent work, but the Phys.org article linked to UA’s AVATAR website. AVATAR (Automated Virtual Agent for Truth Assessments) is a project of BORDERS, a consortium of institutions developing technologies and processes to improve border protection. According to the project documentation, the AVATAR intelligent agents can flag suspicious behavior while conversing with people at ports of entry. It looks like the virtual agents are deployed within kiosks at custom checkpoints.
The AVATAR website also refers to something called a Dynamic Embodied Agent for Persuasion (DEAP) framework. This technology is used to generate animated embodied agents. DEAP sounds very similar to the virtual humans created by USC’s ICT, which are also capable of mimicking human expressions and emotions. Maybe AVATAR leverages ICT technology? I can do some more digging to find out.
It appears the AVATAR project is focused on just one use case, which is to create virtual border guards that converse with people in their native language and observe their verbal and physical responses to detect suspicious behavior. It would be interesting to see the virtual guards in action. Although apparently just a field study, their implementation shows the progress that’s been made in conversational systems technology and how close we are to having virtual agents in our everyday environment.