AI in eLearning – Why Virtual Tutors with a Webcam Are the Better Coach

virtual tutor2017 has been called the year of Chatbots, futurists tell us how chatbots will revolutionise Learning & Development and your grandma probably started using Alexa in your living room. AI is being predicted by experts to become the leading driver of education by the 2020s. We know FAQ chatbots on websites and we are talking more to bots on our phones than people. But how can we use those virtual assistants and even AI in our next online course, micro-training session or MOOC?

Enter Intelligent Tutoring Systems. Finally, the tech is maturing above chatbots.

We are not talking about a pre-produced talking Avatar guiding you through your average online course. Nor are we talking about a voice assistant like Siri, Alexa or Cortana who searches Google on your command for knowledge from Wikipedia (and storing our data who-knows-where). We are talking about a virtual assistant, a chatbot, who is your interface to artificial intelligence, has a live animated face and body when needed (in Skype or virtual worlds) and is the best coach, trainer or teacher you can wish for. Yes, I am talking about an ideal world, but we are getting there!

Intelligent Tutoring Systems are the CUI for eLearning & Training

Conversational User Interfaces (CUI) are already starting to replace our good old Graphical UI (buttons, touch and click). We have known this for decades – Captain Kirk and his crew always talked to the Enterprise,  and that was in the nineteen sixties! These sophisticated chatbots are certainly an interesting addition to the toolbox of online learning designers. The tech is advancing fast: Botanic Technologies, for example, has already developed multimodal Avatars (text, voice and video) who act as an advisor to medical personnel or as your personal job interview coach on Skype. One digital coach — an animated character named Andi — actually does a sentiment and emotional analysis. During a Skype video chat, it processes via webcam your facial expressions, your tonality and your use of words in order to prepare you for a successful job interview. Here’s an example:

Watch Andi, the job interview coach in more detail on Vimeo.
Or rather: Let Andi watch and analyse how you are doing …

Your Personal Virtual Tutor: 24/7:
Never Tired, Never out of Office

That’s why the virtual all-knowing assistant is a better tutor. Think „personal mobile virtual coach“: Your personal learning tutor who lives in the net and assists your learning wherever you are – as a chatbot or voice assistant on your phone or as a 3D character in your favourite virtual learning environment. But the best thing is, those tutors don’t have office hours and thousands of students could benefit from on well-designed conversational bots. MOOC providers know what I am talking about – they’d give anything to clone good tutors for a 24/7 service.

But who can actually develop a chatbot for eLearning environments?

How does that even work? Most of the non-coding chatbot creation platforms (Chatfuel, Botsify) are offering marketing, faq and customer service templates. I’ve created my first virtual teachers with tiny avatars and synthetic voices more than 10 years ago (with Pikkubot in Second Life, sitepal and presenters with Mediasemantics) and unfortunately, I don’t see a lot of advancement in the educational area. To integrate a virtual tutor like the example in the video above you’d need to hire a company that creates your sophisticated coach – which is out of the question in most L&D projects. Or you did deeper and try to create your own dialogue flow in Flow.ai or with IBM Watson. But you already have a profession and who has time to build virtual tutors from scratch?

What to do? Well, I have chosen to take it one step at a time and I joined forces with an interesting company called SEED Vault. They want to make the world a better place by building a massive open-source bot economy based on the blockchain. Independent developers and learning designers need to have access to AI-powered virtual assistants with a variety of ready-to-go templates as well as to open, shared standards we can all use. It doesn’t make sense for a few companies to own the entire AI & CUI market (like Facebook, Alexa, Microsoft, Google, Apple … ). Also, educators need to be very aware of data privacy – which you don’t get from these big corporations. They store every word your students would utter in a black box in exchange for their services. Bots and AI need to be transparent and verified — and that is where blockchain technology comes in.

SEED: A Garden Eden for Bot Builders, Designers, Deployers and Educators on Blockchain

SEED actually emanated from Botanic (the creators of Andi the interview coach) and other global bot communities are joining them as we speak. I’ve been working with Mark Stephen Meadows, founder of Botanic, years ago and have been following his work ever since. Now I’m excited to work with SEED to democratise AI, keeping my focus on education, eLearning and virtual training. I am responsible for managing Bot Community Initiatives – if you are a bot developer, dialogue designer or author please let me know – the SEED community needs you to speed up the evolution of conversational user interfaces so we can finally have ourselves a couple of wise-cracking charming virtual tutors in our next online course 🙂

SEED Token on Telegram  and on Twitter

Contact me on LinkedIn

XING

 

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Self-developing, adaptive robots soon to be available – thanks to Darwin

humanoid_front

The iRobis Brainstorm® technology facilitates and accelerates the development of humanoid self-learning robots – like this little fella. HR-2 walks, talks, imitates and „evolves“. He is already 3 years old by now (he was a prototype developed within 3 months with help of the early Brainstorm® system), but the video about HR-2’s abilities is still worth watching. Want! [picture: Almir Heralic]

From the press release: „The Institute of Robotics in Scandinavia (iRobis) has announced that the world’s first “complete cognitive software system for robotics” is ready for application. The system turns robots into self-developing, adaptive, problem-solving, “thinking” machines. Brainstorm® automatically adapts to on-board sensors and actuators, immediately builds a model of any robot on which it is installed, and automatically writes control programs for the robot’s movements. It can then explore and model its environment. Through simulated interaction using these models, it solves problems and develops new behavior using “imagination.” Once it has “learned” to do something, it can use its imagination to adapt its behavior to a wide range of circumstances. A methodology known as genetic programming (GP) is “the trick” that makes it all possible. GP is an automated programming methodology inspired by natural evolution that is used to evolve computer programs.“

You can’t download their system right away – iRobis is rather looking for high-potential partners/companies/researchers with whom they can develop prototypes like toys or perhaps household robots. Please hurry – I really want some kind of little robot fella on my desktop or maybe a little bit larger so he can get me a coffee or pizza from the kitchen.

Here’s the full iRobis press release

Digg deeper: More information about the technology and history behind iRobis Brainstorm® by Roger F. Gay


You can subscribe to this blog: It’s about the Metaverse – 3DWeb, social web, virtual worlds, Artificial Intelligence and whatever relates to those.

Can robots become our ‚phriends‘?

„A friendly collaboration between humans and robots is not always easy. Either robots work efficiently and far from humans in controlled environments, or they’re equipped with lots of sensors to work along humans and not harm them. Now, a EU-funded project, Phriends — short for ‚Physical Human-Robot Interaction: DepENDability and Safety‘ — has started to force robots to respect Asimov’s laws. In a nutshell, these laws say that robots cannot cause harm to humans and that they have to obey us. This 3-year project will end next year and has received € 2.16 million from the EU. (…) The robots developed by Phriends will be intrinsically safe, since the safety is guaranteed by their very physical structure, and not by external sensors or algorithms that can fail. (…)“

Read the full article here: Can robots become our ‚phriends‘? >>

Eerily lifelike animation heralds new era for computer games [Times Online]

Watch this. The future is now. ‚Emily‘ will set a new precedent for photo-realistic characters in video games and films, says her creator, Image Metrics. Now imagine that realism backed by natural language speech enabled software robots…and we’ve got ourselves a useful android. Article: Lifelike animation heralds new era for computer games – Times Online.

Teaching language to robots – let them learn like kids do and then teach each other

Plymouth University researchers will build two robots using hardware and software allowing them to interact with humans and each other to exchange learned information like humans. They are equipped with cameras, speakers,  microphones and tracking devices in order to learn about nonverbal communication (gestures, pointing) and the meaning of words just like childrens would. The goal of the project is to teach concepts to robots including the meaning of words and enable them later to teach each other. The robots will then use the Internet as a medium to interact and are no longer limited by the slow real world to do “show and tell” teaching. Nice!

Teaching language to robots – let them learn like kids do and then teach each other >>