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Can Computers Communicate Like People Do? (Part One)

February 18, 1997

Imagine two people at a table in a restaurant. Are they intimately leaning toward each other or sitting stiffly? Are they gazing dreamily at each other or avoiding eye contact? How are they gesturing? What are they saying and with what tone of voice? A mere glance and a snippet of conversation make it easy for a person to quite accurately guess the situation: is it lovers, friends having an argument, or a business meeting?

Humans have an ability that exceeds computers to process many different types of information -- images, words and intonation, posture and gestures, and written language -- and from these draw a conclusion. More "natural" interactions with "smarter" computers will make them accessible to a broader range of people (including people with disabilities) in a wider range of settings while being more useful in helping people sort through and synthesize the glut of available information.

A set of 15 awards in a new $10 million program led by the National Science Foundation -- Speech, Text, Image and Multimedia Advanced Technology Effort (STIMULATE) -- will fund university researchers investigating human communication and seeking to improve our interaction with computers. Four agencies, NSF, National Security Agency Office of Research and SIGINT Technology, the Central Intelligence Agency Office of Research and Development, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Information Technology Office are participating.

"This program goes well beyond the era of graphical interfaces with our computers," said Gary Strong, NSF program manager. "Perhaps some day we can interact with our computers like we interact with each other, even having `intelligent' computer assistants. STIMULATE has the potential for enormous impact on anyone who must process large amounts of data as well as for people with disabilities, the illiterate and others who might not be able to use a computer keyboard."

Funded projects include: a filter for TV, radio and newspaper accounts that will quickly provide a user with a synopsis; a computerized translation program; and a "humanoid" computer that will understand human communication including facial expressions, gestures and speech intonation. Other projects include speech recognition, understanding handwriting, and indexing and retrieving video.

To view the original press release click here

To continue on to an update on the STIMULATE program (Part Two), from July 25, 2000 click here

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