Lessons from the Near-Human
This chapter, which describes the embodied conversational agents (ECAs) as mechanisms that make people attribute humanness and aliveness to them, conducts experiments on the essence of humanness and aliveness by exploring the interactions between actual and virtual humans. It also discusses the life that ECAs have acquired when they leave the lab—the uses to which companies and research labs have put them. ECAs are cartoonlike, often life-size, depictions of virtual humans that are projected on a screen. Building them has forced researchers in human behavior to attend to the integration of modalities and behaviors in a way that merges approaches from fields that usually do not speak to one another. The development of ECAs from a scientific instrument that simulates human behavior to an attractive interface bears interesting parallels to the history of mechanical automata.
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