Tag Archives: Voice UX

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.

IMG_20151218_143348

 

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!

A.I.: from Sci-Fi to Science reality

17 Jan

Just found this very brief and illustrated History of Artificial Intelligence at LiveScience.com and I couldn’t help but share it!

We have come a long way! (e.g. getting a Chatbot to pass the Turing Test and having to come up with a new test now!) But we also still have a long way to go until the dreaded Singularity moment comes!

A timeline of developments in computers and robotics.

Source:LiveScience

METALOGUE: Building a Multimodal Spoken Dialogue Tool for teaching Call Centre Agents metacognitive skills

21 Jul

METALOGUE logo

Since November 2013, I’ve had the opportunity to actively participate in the new EU-funded FP7 R & D project, METALOGUE, through my company DialogCONNECTION Ltd, which is one of the 10 Consortium Partners. The project aims to develop a natural, flexible, and interactive Multi-perspective and Multi-modal Dialogue system with metacognitive abilities, i.e. a system that can monitor, reason about, and provide feedback on its own behaviour, intentions and strategies, as well as the dialogue itself, guess those of its interlocutor,  and accordingly plan the next step in the dialogue. The goal is to dynamically adapt both its strategy and its behaviour (speech and non-verbal aspects) in order to influence the interlocutor’s reaction, and hence the progress of the dialogue over time, and thereby also achieve its own goals in the most advantageous way for both sides. The project runs for 3 years (until 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_replay

The METALOGUE research focuses on interactive and adaptive coaching situations where negotiation skills play a key role in the decision-making processes. Reusable and customisable software components and algorithms will be developed, tested and integrated into a prototype platform, which will provide learners with a rich and interactive environment that will help them develop metacognitive skills, support motivation, and stimulate creativity and responsibility in the decision-making, argumentation, and negotiation process. The project will produce virtual trainers capable of engaging in natural interaction in English, German, and Greek, using gestures, facial expressions, and body language.

 

Pilot systems will be developed for 2 different Sectors: Government and Industry. The corresponding user scenaria that have been selected are: a) Youth Parliamentarian Debating Skill Tutoring (for the Hellenic Youth Parliament) and b) Call Centre Agent Training (for multilingual UK Call Centres). Particularly for Call Centres, we have identified the following broad CC Agent training goals:

CC training goals

CC training goals B

These training goals translate into the following metacognitive skills that a Call Centre Agent needs to learn and which will be taught through the METALOGUE system:

CC training goals C

To this effect, DialogCONNECTION Ltd and myself are looking for UK-based Call Centres, preferably with multilingual agents, that would like to participate in the course of the project.

 

What we need from you

Ideally, we would get access to real-world Call Centre Agent-Caller/Customer recordings. However, simulated Trainer – Trainee phone calls that are used for situational Agent training are also acceptable (either already available or collected specifically for the project). 2 hours of audio (and video if available) would suffice for the 1st year of the project (needed by October 2014). By the 2nd year (Dec 2015) we would need a total of 15 hours of audio. The audio will be used to train the METALOGUE speech recognisers and the associated acoustic and language models, as well as its metacognitive models. We are looking for Call Centres that are either small and agile (serving multiple small clients) or large (and probably plagued by the well-known agent burn-out syndrome). Strict EU Guidelines for data protection will be applied on all the collected and all the published data (e.g. caller anonymisation, sensitive data redaction) and ultimately YOU determine what can and what cannot be published both during and after the project has ended.

 

What’s in it for you

  • Participation, input in, early access & evaluation of all intermediate pilots as they are developed (No need to wait until the end of the project like the rest of the world!)
  • Provide feedback, express wishes with regards to your own requirements for features and functionality (i.e. the pilots and the end system will be customised to your own needs!)
  • Full METALOGUE system at the end for free, customised to your needs and requirements (no source code, or speech recogniser, just the system as-is)

 

If I have sparked your interest, please get in touch by leaving a comment to this post or contact us through our company website. Here is a handy PDF with the invitation to Call Centres (METALOGUE Poster).

 

You can get updates on the progress of the METALOGUE project by connecting with us on LinkedIn and on Twitter. Watch the future happen now!

 

EU FP7 logo

Develop your own Android voice app!

26 Dec

Voice application Development for Android

My colleague Michael F. McTear has got a new and very topical book out! Voice Application Development for Android, co-authored with Zoraida Callejas. Apart from a hands-on step-by-step but still condensed guide to voice application development, you get the source code to develop your own Android apps for free!

Get the book here or through Amazon. And have a look at the source code here.

Exciting times ahead for do-it-yourself Android speech app development!

The AVIxD 49 VUI Tips in 45 Minutes !

6 Nov

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The illustrious Association for Voice Interaction Design (AVIxD) organised a Workshop in the context of SpeechTEK in August 2010, whose goal was “to provide VUI designers with as many tips as possible during the session“. Initially the goal was 30 Tips in 45 minutes. But they got overexcited and came up with a whooping 49 Tips in the end! The Session was moderated by Jenni McKienzie, and the panelists were David Attwater, Jon Bloom, Karen Kaushansky, and Julie Underdahl. This list dates back 3 years now, but it’s by no means outdated. This is the most sound advice you will find in designing better voice recognition IVRs and I hated it being buried in a PDF!

So I am audaciously plagiarising and bringing you here: the 49 VUI Tips for Better Voice User Interface Design! Or go and read the .PDF yourselves here:

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And finally ….

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Have you got a VUI Tip you can’t find in this list that you’d like to share? Tell us here!

 

XOWi: The wearable Voice Recognition Personal Assistant

30 Oct

I just found out about the new venture of my colleagues, Ahmed Bouzid and Weiye Ma, and I’m all excited and want to spread the word!

They came up with the idea of a Wearable and hence Ubiquitous Personal Voice Assistant, XOWi (pronounced Zoe). The basic concept is that XOWi is small and unintrusive (you wear it like a badge or pin it somewhere near you) but still connects to your smartphone and through that to all kinds of apps and websites for communicating with people (Facebook, Twitter, Ebay) and controlling data and information (selecting TV channels, switching the aircon on). Moreover, it is completely voice-driven, so it is completely hands- and eyes-free. This means that it won’t distract you (if you’re driving, reading, working) and if you have any vision impairment or disability, you are still completely connected and communicable. So, XOWi truly turns Star Trek into reality! The video below explains the concept:


The type of application context is exemplified by the following diagram.

XOWi architecture

And here is how it works:

Ahmed and Weiye have turned to Kickstarter for crowdfunding. If they manage to get $100,000 by 21st November, XOWi will become a product and I will get one for my birthday in March 2014! 😀 Join the Innovators and support the next generation in smart communicators!