ELLIE is a psychologist, and a damned good one at that. Smile in a certain way, and she knows precisely what your smile means. Develop a nervous tic or tension in an eye, and she instantly picks up on it. She listens to what you say, processes every word, works out the meaning of your pitch, your tone, your posture, everything. She is at the top of her game but, according to a new study, her greatest asset is that she is not human.
When faced with tough or potentially embarrassing questions, people often do not tell doctors what they need to hear. Yet the researchers behind Ellie, led by Jonathan Gratch at the Institute for Creative Technologies, in Los Angeles, suspected from their years of monitoring human interactions with computers that people might be more willing to talk if presented with an avatar. To test this idea, they put 239 people in front of Ellie (pictured above) to have a chat with her about their lives. Half were told (truthfully) they would be interacting with an artificially intelligent virtual human; the others were told (falsely) that Ellie was a bit like a puppet, and was having her strings pulled remotely by a person.
Read the whole story: The Economist