In his 1950 paper, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence”, Alan Turing posed the question “can machines think?” Turing went on to assess all the major arguments against machine cognition, concluding that machines could, in fact, think; defining a test to demonstrate the ability of a machine to successfully replicate human conversational behaviours that has become known as the Turing test.
The challenge posed by Turing’s 1950 paper has seen the development of the entire field of artificial intelligence research, a field in which Flinders’ researcher Professor David Powers and his team are now playing a leading role.
The research conducted by Professor Powers and his team in the Flinders Artificial Intelligence Laboratory has led to a number of exciting developments in the field of human computer interaction.
Professor Powers and his group were pivotal members of the team that received the 2006-2012 Australian Research Council/National Health and Medical Research Council System grant for work on Thinking Systems: From Talking Heads to Thinking Heads.
Their development of interactive human-avatars is an area of speciality for the team and it is their combination of research excellence and innovative thinking that has led to exciting real-world applications of their research breakthroughs.
Much like the film of the same name, avatars have the potential to revolutionise human-computer interaction.
Avatar specialists, Dr Martin Luerssen and Dr Trent Lewis originally undertook their undergraduate and doctoral degrees in Cognitive Science at Flinders and, after developing key deliverables as Research Fellows under the Thinking Systems grant, went on to win a Researcher in Business grant to take their Clever Avatars to popular smart phone platforms – and “Clevertar" was born.
Professor Powers’ team has specialised in the creation and programming of "Teaching Heads” with applications from second language teaching to training children with Autism Spectrum Disorder in social skills. Moving to the smart phone platform and expanding on its potential as an assistive technology for health, Clevertar developed "Anna Cares" as its flagship product to help people with care needs live independently.
High-end computer science and community care are not often approached together, yet the creation of an interactive human avatar and its integration into an iPad-friendly diary format is allowing people with care needs to remain supported by carers but live independently.
Using assistive avatar technology integrated into a cloud-hosted calendar application for the iPad, the “Anna Cares” application provides an accessible platform for carers, family and the client to interact and monitor the completion of tasks, thus eliminating the need for short and frequent carer visits.
The Anna Cares application features Anna, a human avatar who interacts with the client, reading out messages and providing reminders for appointments and tasks until the client interacts with Anna and registers them as completed.
One particularly exciting feature of the Anna Cares application is its accessibility for the community of people supporting the client.
Care givers and family can check-in with instant messaging and place events and reminders in the diary, communicating in an unobtrusive way with the client in addition to checking whether well-being tasks (such as taking medication) have been completed.
Anna Cares has enjoyed market success.
One reason for its ongoing appeal lies in its core concept of addressing a real need in the carer and client community. Many people with care needs neither require nor want residential care, rather they feel that with a system of reminders and monitoring that their quality of life would be far greater and the Anna Cares application assists with exactly those needs.
The avatar interface humanises the otherwise impersonal technology experience with Anna providing a ‘real person’ with whom the client can interact and who assists them in their day to day lives.
The researchers behind the Anna Cares application view Anna as the personal assistant to clients needing care; Anna ties all aspects of the caring cycle together, providing immediate and ongoing support to clients as they go about their day to day lives.
By removing the need for constant phone calls or nagging personal reminders care givers are able to concentrate their efforts when and as they are most required.
For more information contact the Flinders Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.