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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Your Virtual English Friend

Having just watched a short video of the Microsoft's presentation of their "virtual human", I started thinking how this technology could change language learning.

Milo is a virtual boy. You see him on your TV screen. He will do as you command, but he's not just a character in a computer game. Milo actually responds to your oral commands, answers your questions and interacts with objects that you give him. In the video the girl passes Milo a drawing she has just done on a piece of paper and he take sthe paper from her and responds. Now, doesn't that seem incredible? We can't pass objects through the TV screen! Of course, the paper itself doesn't leave the girl's hand, but an exact replica of the piece of paper is scanned and it's data sent to Milo. The player and Milo interact and this interaction is so much more realistic than in previous video games because facial expressions and body langauge are so successfully portrayed. When the girl asks Milo about his homework, he acquires a sheepish expression. I have no idea how this technology works, and I'm sure that when it is released as a game it will not be anywhere near as effective or realistic as in this demonstration (just like most video game adverts and demos) but even if it does half of what we expect, it can be exploited in many different areas, not just entertainment.

Imagine you have your own English friend with whom you can converse, play games and explore. For a learner of English this is a brilliant opportunity to practise the language. Learners who live in a country where English is not spoken by most people can have great difficulties in practising the language outside of class. With somebody like Milo in their XBox, they can have a fairly realistic experience of interacting with a real English boy. This will surely interest children and teenagers, but I think a similar product could be developed for adults too. Imagine a "game" where you have to negotiate with a board of businessmen who react and respond to everything you say. To be honest, the possiblities are endless.

Let's just hope that one day soon this technology is released into the market, and at a reasonable price. Then we will all be able to have our own mini English friend!

The article from BBC News here 
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