Towards Lifelike Computer Interfaces that Learn

LifeLike investigates, develops and evaluates lifelike, natural computer interfaces as portals to intelligent programs in the context of Decision Support System (DSS). The goal is to provide a natural interface that supports realistic spoken dialog and non-verbal cues and is capable of learning to maintain its knowledge current and correct. Research objectives focus around the development of an avatar-based interface with which the DSS user can interact. Communication with the avatar will occur in spoken natural language combined with gestural expressions or pointing on the screen. Speaker-independent continuous speech input as a spontaneous dialog will be supported within the specified DSS domain. A robust backend that can respond intelligently to the questions asked by the DSS user will generate the responses spoken in reply by the avatar with realistic inflection and visual expressions.

Your body can't live forever, says computer scientist Jason Leigh, but your mind still can -- as an avatar. Leigh, a professor in the Department of Computer Science and the director of the Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL) at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has a novel way to achieve immortality -- by creating a lifelike avatar of himself.

Leigh is profiled on the NOVA scienceNOW episode of "Can We Live Forever?", which airs January 26, 2011, on PBS television. Check your local listings for the exact time.

The show's host, Neil deGrasse Tyson, examines whether we can slow down the aging process, looks at the latest on human hibernation, and takes a lighthearted look at whether the tricks that have kept a 1966 Volvo running for 2.7 million miles can also help the human body go the extra mile. One segment profiles Leigh and Project LifeLike, in which Leigh and his students are pioneering avatar technology that will allow individuals to impart their wisdom, humor, and unique insight long after they are gone. (We are told that the segment is second to last in this episode.)

The NOVA scienceNOW production crew first visited EVL in December 2009 and returned in January 2010 for three grueling days of filming. They wanted to get to know Jason both professionally and personally, in order to better understand what excites him and feeds his creative thought processes. It will be interesting to see how 30+ hours of video shot on location will be condensed for a 10-minute TV segment! Leigh is one of several young researchers being profiled as part of this PBS series, with the goal of inspiring teenagers and young adults to pursue careers in science and engineering.

For more information, see:

Project LifeLike Received First Place in the UIC Image of Research 2010 Competition (Apr 6, 2010)
APRIL 6, 2010 -- Sanyoon Lee, a PhD student in the UIC Department of Computer Science and a Research Assistant in the Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL), won first place in the 3rd annual UIC Image of Research contest for his creation of a realistic avatar as part of EVL's "Project LifeLike."

Lee's research aims to design and develop a visually compelling digital version of a real human, Dr. Alexander Schwarzkopf, a long-standing program manager at the National Science Foundation (NSF). This representation, or avatar, will serve as an interactive interface to an intelligent decision support system that intelligently responds to user questions about his NSF program via spoken language, with realistic inflection and visual expressions.

While many people are familiar with avatars from movies and video games, the movies can devote hours to render a single image in exquisite detail while video games generate images in real time, but they look cartoonish . However, the LifeLike system renders an avatar fast enough to accommodate real-time interaction as well as produce photorealistic details similar to a real person. The success of this project brings us one step closer to being able to recreate and preserve people – historical figures, sports figures, doctors and nurses, or simply Mom or Dad - in a more natural way than documents or film archives. As Dr. Schwarzkopf exclaimed when he interacted with his avatar earlier this year, "It looks like me!"

Image of Research is an interdisciplinary exhibit competition to showcase the breadth and diversity of research at UIC. The winning and finalist images will be displayed in the lobby of the campus’ Daley Library starting April 15, as well as in the Library of Health Sciences. A selection of the images will be featured on light pole banners around campus.

Winners of this year's competition are announced at:
Specific information about Lee's first place entry (and the winning image) can be found at:

PopSci's Future Of: Immortal Avatars (Oct 12, 2009)

The Discovery Network's Science Channel airs the series "POPULAR SCIENCE'S FUTURE OF." Hosted by author, comedian, writer and pundit Baratunde Thurston, each episode examines how one important characteristic of human life will fundamentally change within our lifetimes. Last week, on October 12, 2009, the "Popular Science's Future Of Immortality" aired, featuring "Project Lifelike," research being conducted by the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Electronic Visualization Laboratory and the University of Central Florida (UCF) Intelligent Systems Laboratory and Computer Architecture Laboratory, and funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Through in-depth interviews with scientists and hands-on experience with breakthrough research and prototypes, the TV show guides viewers on a deep exploration of the science and how it will fundamentally evolve within our lifetimes. UIC faculty Jason Leigh and UCF faculty member Ron DeMara, and several others from EVL, are featured on the Science Channel program. A 2-minute preview is available on the Science Channel website. While the "Immortality" show has already aired in its entirety on prime time, check your local listings for reruns. (Link to the preview)

NSF Press Release (Press Release 09-101, May 15, 2009)
"The Next Best Thing to You"
New avatar technology combines advances in artificial intelligence and computer image rendering

A video interview with Project LifeLike leaders Avelino Gonzalez and Jason Leigh

Have you ever wished you could be in two places at once? Perhaps you've had the desire to create a copy of yourself that could stand in for you at a meeting, freeing you up to work on more pressing matters. Thanks to a research project called LifeLike, that fantasy might be a little closer to reality... (Link to the full NSF press release)

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LifeLike is developed by the cavern group at the Electronic Visualization Laboratory. , University of Illinois at Chicago and Intelligent System Laboratory, University of Central Florida.
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Jan, 2011, Sangyoon Lee