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Talking with a Virtual Human: Transdisciplinary Design Considerations for Speech-based Interaction in the Audience with a Hero Project

Courneya, Marsha, Jackson, David ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-7985-2104 and McKinley, Roger (2022) Talking with a Virtual Human: Transdisciplinary Design Considerations for Speech-based Interaction in the Audience with a Hero Project. Leonardo Electronic Almanac, 23 (1). ISSN 1071-4391

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Abstract

Exchanges with digital assistants, such as Apple’s Siri, have a functional aesthetic related to asking informational questions, such as for weather updates. However, when these human-machine conversations include recorded testimony by real-life people, the identity of our conversational partner changes our relationship with these talking machines. Such complexities require transdisciplinary perspectives to identify the conversational dynamics at play. The Innovate UK funded Audience with a Hero research project undertaken by Forever Holdings LLC, Bright White Ltd. and Manchester Metropolitan University sought to allow audiences to speak with a celebrity figure in a virtual reality environment. Research from that project presented here provides insights into the psychological, sociological, narratological and linguistic design considerations that arose during development. It finds that when we reposition the speaking and listening computer as a virtual human celebrity, our language is constrained by many of the anxieties of a real-life encounter. Existing personal relationships with the subject lend a sense of aliveness to the conversational agent as we enter the exchange. Once in conversation, a sense of fidelity in both human prosody and convincing instances of self-disclosure help maintain the necessary social presence required to conduct a worthwhile conversation with a machine.

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