"The earliest speaking machines were perceived as the heretical works of magicians and thus as attempts to defy god. In the thirteenth century the philosopher Albertus Magnus is said to have created a head that could talk, only to see if destroyed by St. Thomas Aquinas, a former student of his, as an abomination. The English scientist-monk Roger Bacon seems to have produced one as well. That fakes were appearing in Europe in the late sixteenth and early
seventeenth centuries is shown by Miguel de Cervantes's description of a head that spoke to Don Quixote -- with the help of a tube that led to the floor below. Like Magnus, this fictitious inventor also feared the judgement of religious authorities, though in his case he took it upon himslef to destroy the heresy. By the eighteenth century science had started to shed its connection to magic, and the problem of artificial speech was taken up by inventors of a more mechanical bent."
David Lindsay, "Talking Head", Invention & Technology, Summer 1997, 57-63.

Gesture and Narrative Language Group, MIT
GNL studies how artifacts such as agents and toys can be designed with psychosocial competencies, based on a deep understanding of human linguistic, cognitive, and social abilities.

Project include:

"BodyChat is a prototype of a graphical chat system that allows users to communicate via text while their avatars automatically animate attention, salutations, turn taking, back-channel feedback and facial expression, as well as simple body functions such as blinking of the eyes."

"...the newest generation of Embodied Conversational Agent -- "Rea" -- a life-size animated humanoid figure on a screen that can understand the conversational behaviors of the human standing in front of it (using computer vision techniques), and respond with appropriate speech, animated hand gestures, body movements, and facial expressions of its own. The architecture for this new "conversationally intelligent" agent is based on an analysis of conversational functions, allowing the system to exploit users' natural speech, gesture and head movement in the input to organize conversation, and to respond with automatically generated verbal and nonverbal behaviors of its own."

"The research version of Rea runs on a collection of five SGIs and PCs. "

MIRALab is a creative interdisciplinary research group, at the University of Geneva, specialising in virtual human simualtion and virtual worlds


Tim Lukins
PHD student within the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh, undertaking research "concerned with the problem of Capturing Human Nuance"