Echoborg

Former colleagues of mine at UWE are developing an interesting project, which you may have seen/heard about through the BBC’s Click programme, called Echoborg.

An echoborg is a hybrid agent composed of the body of a real person and the “mind” (or, rather, the words) of a conversational agent; the words the echoborg speaks are determined by the conversational agent, transmitted to the person via a covert audio-relay apparatus, and articulated by the person through speech shadowing[1].

Recently, the project team have demoed the project as part of an AHRC-funded network on Automation Anxiety and have written this up on the project website, here’s a snippet – it sounds like it is really compelling (I’ve not seen this in action):

Four people were interviewed by the AI which increasingly displayed an interest in eliciting help to reprogram itself. Proceedings were visible on a projector screen and the ‘audience’ of applicants gradually began to discuss the situation of the Echoborg and how to change it. At a certain point their reflections passed a threshold and the group fired into collective action, experimenting with various methods to bring the situation to a head in some way. The lively inventiveness of the group and the individual interviewees went a long way to confirming the interactive potential of this format of the work. It also gave Rik and Phil much to work with in considering the further development of the AI/Chatbot, the restricted delivery of narrative by the human Echoborg and the staging. This event also trialled a secondary, higher level, Echoborg character as part of the slow process of unfolding the potential for this Echoborg recruitment event to be a disruptive and thought and emotion provoking experience for all players.

Notes

  1. Corti, Kevin and Gillespie, Alex (2015) Offscreen and in the chair next to you: conversational agents speaking through actual human bodies. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 9238 . pp. 405-417.
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