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Our META Avatar immortalised in a TEDx talk!

31 Oct

 

meta-avatar-final-athens-pilots

Our very own Niels Taatgen from the University of Groeningen gave a TEDx talk last Summer on “Why computers are not intelligent (yet!)” and why they still have a long way to go.

 

Computers can be better than humans in very specialised tasks, such as chess and Go, but it’s much more difficult to learn how to learn new tasks and to think about intentions and goals other than their own, like humans do. Enter our EU R & D Project METALOGUE .

 

METALOGUE logo

 

Niels briefly shows an example interaction with our META Avatar negotiating the terms of a smoking ban and actually “thinking about the (human) opponent”, a crucial human negotiation and life skill. You can see META from minute 12 onwards but the whole talk is really interesting to watch, so don’t skip to it!

 

EU FP7 logo

Amazon Alexa Developers Conference (10 Oct, London)

7 Oct

Exciting times for Amazon Alexa!

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Amazon Echo

  • Alexa has crossed over 3,000 skills in the US Skill Store, up from 1,000 in June;
  • Alexa has just started shipping in the UK and is coming soon to Germany too. Echo and Echo Dot were just made available in the UK, whereas in Germany they are available by invitation for those who want to help shape Alexa as she evolves—the devices will start shipping next month.
  • Amazon has also announced a new Echo Dot,  enabled with new Echo Spatial Perception (ESP) which allows devices to determine which device a user is talking to (meaning that only one will respond, when multiple devices hear the user). The Dot will increase the number of devices Alexa can talk to in the home, creating an innovative customer experience. It will retail for £49.99 and Echo for £149.99.

Here are 2 neat little YouTube videos showing Alexa in action.

 

 

In this context, Amazon is bringing their Alexa training events to Europe in October. Hello Alexa London is on Monday 10th October. 

  • Developers, engineers, QA/testers and anyone who wants to learn how to build skills can participate in the full-day agenda from 8:30am – 4:30pm (+ Happy Hour afterwards!)
  • Business development, strategy and planning, VUX/UX /VUI, account teams, producers and project management professionals can participate in the Alexa Business Development for Agencies session later in the day from 3pm – 4:30pm (and then of course join the Happy Hour!). They can also join the breakfast session, Welcome to Alexa (a 45-minute keynote) and Hello Alexa (a 1-hour session on the basics of creating a skill: what goes into the design, build, test, publish) from 8:30am – 10:45am.
  • Click here to register (although the event is already sold out by now!)  and hope to see you there!

I am really excited at how ubiquitous speech recognition is becoming! It was already ubiquitous as we were dragging it around on our smartphones (Apple SIRI, Google Now), but now it’s penetrated our homes too, crossing over work/personal/family lives. The future is omni-channel but unimodal?!

Big unknowns: what is consciousness?

6 Aug



What does it mean to be “you”?

Is a bee conscious? What about a monocellular organism? Surely humans are special? 

How do we think about ourselves, how can we be thinking about our thinking and behaviour (metacognition) and how is all that possible given the structure of our brains?

There are more questions than answers but the quest for answers is fascinating in itself.

http://www.theguardian.com/science/audio/2016/aug/05/big-unknowns-what-is-consciousness-podcast?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_WordPress

Meet META, the Meta-cognitive skills Training Avatar!

16 Jun

METALOGUE logo

EU FP7 logo

 

Since November 2013, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in the EU-funded FP7 R & D project, METALOGUE, through my company DialogCONNECTION Ltd, one of 10 Consortium Partners. The project aims to develop a natural, flexible, and interactive Multi-perspective and Multi-modal Dialogue system with meta-cognitive abilities; a system that can:

  • monitor, reason about, and provide feedback on its own behaviour, intentions and strategies, and the dialogue itself,
  • guess the intentions of its interlocutor,
  • and accordingly plan the next step in the dialogue.

The system tries to dynamically adapt both its strategy and behaviour (speech and non-verbal aspects) in order to influence the dialogue partner’s reaction, and, as a result, the progress of the dialogue over time, and thereby also achieve its own goals in the most advantageous way for both sides.

The project is in its 3rd and final year (ending in Oct 2016) and has a budget of € 3,749,000 (EU contribution: € 2,971,000). METALOGUE brings together 10 Academic and Industry partners from 5 EU countries (Germany, Netherlands, Greece, Ireland, and UK).

 

METALOGUE focuses on interactive and adaptive training situations, where negotiation skills play a key role in the decision-making processes. Reusable and customisable software components and algorithms have been developed, tested and integrated into a prototype platform, which provides learners with a rich and interactive environment that motivates them to develop meta-cognitive skills, by stimulating creativity and responsibility in the decision-making, argumentation, and negotiation process. The project is producing a virtual trainer, META, a Training Avatar capable of engaging in natural interaction in English (currently, with the addition of German and Greek in the future), using gestures, facial expressions, and body language.

METALOGUE Avatar

Pilot systems have been developed for 2 different user scenarios: a) debatingand b) negotiation, both tested and evaluated by English-speaking students at the Hellenic Youth Parliament. We are currently targeting various industry verticals, in particular Call Centres, e.g. to semi-automate and enhance Call Centre Agent Training.

 

And here’s META in action!

 

In this video, our full-body METALOGUE Avatar is playing the role of a business owner, who is negotiating a smoking ban with a local Government Counsellor.   Still imperfect (e.g. there is some slight latency before replying – and an embarrassing repetition at some point!), but you can also see the realistic facial expressions, gaze, gestures, and body language, and even selective and effective pauses. It can process natural spontaneous speech in a pre-specified domain (smoking ban, in this case) and it has reached an ASR error rate below 24% (down from almost 50% 2 years ago!). The idea is to use such an Avatar in Call Centres to provide extra training support on top of existing training courses and workshops. It’s not about replacing the human trainer, but rather empowering and motivating Call Centre Trainee Agents who are trying to learn how to read their callers and how to successfully negotiate deals and even complaints with them in an optimal way.

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My company, DialogCONNECTION, is charged with the task of attracting interest and feedback from industry to gauge the relevance and effectiveness of the METALOGUE approach in employee training contexts (esp. negotiation and decision-making). We are looking in particular for Call Centres;both small and agile (serving multiple small clients) and large (and probably plagued by the well-known agent burn-out syndrome). Ideally, you would give us access to real-world Call Centre Agent-Caller/Customer recordings or even simulated Trainer – Trainee phone calls that are used for situational Agent training (either already available or collected specifically for the project). A total of just 15 hours of audio (and video if available) would suffice to train the METALOGUE speech recognisers and the associated acoustic and language models, as well as its metacognitive models.

However, if you don’t want to commit your organisation’s data, any type of input and feedback would make us happy! As an innovative pioneering research project, we really need guidance, evaluation and any input from the real world of industry! So, if we have sparked your interest in any way and you want to get involved and give it a spin, please get in touch!

The winning Omni-Channel Customer Experience

8 Oct

winning Omni-Channel Customer Experience

I just saw this really interesting and eye-opening infographic on LinkedIn and had to share.

Some really interesting statistics on current customer behaviour and attitudes towards brands and communication with them. E.g.

  • The probability of successfully Cross-selling and Up-selling to a potential customer is just 5%-20%, but a whooping 60-70% with an existing customer. (So, watch it and respect your existing customers please!)
  • More than 63% of customer service enquiries are initiated through social channels (So, watch your social media streams!)

Read more here

Call Centre Training e-poll

11 Oct

As part of our METALOGUE project, we have created an electronic poll (e-poll).

metalogue_replay

Our goal is to collect actual real-world requirements from Call Centre professionals that will inform our system pilot design and implementation. Through this and a number of other e-polls, we are asking some basic questions on Call Centre Agent training goals, Call Centre Agent preferences, target functionality of an automated agent training tool, etc.

We are inviting anyone from the Industry, from Call Centre Operators and Managers, Agent Trainers, to Call Centre Agents (experienced and novice) to participate. Feel free to add your own input and comments.

If you can also use the Contact form below to indicate whether you are a Call Centre Operator / Manager, Trainer, or Agent (or all of the above!), we would be able to collect some data on the demographics of the e-poll respondents.

Thank you in advance!

Award to our METALOGUE Presentation Trainer!

26 Sep

Fantastic news!

Our EU project METALOGUE has won the EC-TEL 2014 Technology-Enhanced Learning Best Demo Award! Our METALOGUE Partners at the Dutch Open University (OUNL) demonstrated and won the audience over with their Presentation Trainer, a public speaking instructor which tracks and analyses the user’s body posture and movements, speaking cadence and voice volume, and provides instructional feedback on their non-verbal communication skills (sensor-based learning). Congratulations to our OUNL partners!

EC-TEL 2014 Best Demo Award

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