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     Volume 4 Issue 50 | June 10, 2005 |

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The Chameleon Effect
Psychologists and salesmen call it the "chameleon effect": People are perceived as more honest and likeable if they subtly mimic the body language of the person they're speaking with. Now scientists have demonstrated that computers can exploit the same phenomenon, but with greater success and on a larger scale. Researchers at Stanford University's Virtual Human Interaction Lab strapped 69 student volunteers into an immersive 3-D virtual-reality rig. They then found themselves sitting across the table from a "digital agent" -- a computer-generated man or woman -- programmed to deliver a three-minute pitch advocating a national university security policy requiring students to carry ID whenever they're on campus. The anthropomorphic cyberhuckster featured moving lips and blinking eyes on a head that nodded and swayed realistically. But unbeknownst to the test subjects, the head movements weren't random. In half the sessions, the computer was programmed to mimic the student's movements exactly, with a precise four-second delay; if a test subject tilted her head thoughtfully and looked up at a 15-degree angle, the computer would repeat the gesture four seconds later. Stanford's communications assistant professor Jeremy Bailenson, head of the lab says the research not only shows that computers can take advantage of our psychological quirks, but that they can do it more effectively than humans can because they can execute precise movements with scientifically optimised timing. A single speaker -- whether an AI or a human avatar -- could mimic a thousand people at once, undetected, transforming a cheap salesman's trick into a tool of mass influence.

Concept Maps Go to School
A research institute is taking software designed in part to preserve scientists' knowledge and giving it to schools around the world as a tool to help children learn. The software was designed to literally map out what scientists know in diagram form. The Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition is providing the concept mapping software to individual schools as well as training teachers in Panama, the first country adopting Cmaps nationwide. NASA and the Defense Department paid for most of the research. The military uses concept mapping both as a learning tool and to help unlock information from the minds of scientists for use by future generations, said Alberto Canas, the institute's associate director and leading Cmap researcher. Cmaps can be used to assess student knowledge, encourage thinking and problem solving instead of rote learning, organise information for writing projects and help teachers write new curricula. "We need to move education from a memorising system and repetitive system to a dynamic system," said Gaspar Tarte, who is spearheading education reform in Panama. "We would like to use tools and a methodology that helps children construct knowledge," Tarte said. "If you organise it as a concept map, then you have to understand the topic," Canas said. "We want kids to become knowledge constructors instead of just information consumers."

Latest in Microsurgery
Japan's electronics giant Toshiba researcher Makoto Jinno demonstrates a robotic manipulating force for microsurgery, equipped with three servo motors to grab and sew up internal organs with an endoscope at the company's laboratory in Kawasaki, suburban Tokyo. The force manipulator is expected to be put on the market in 2007 with an estimated price of 10 million (93,500 USD) for a system.
Source: AFP

Watch Out for Roadcasting Rage
Stuck in traffic, you may soon be able to tune in to the music collection of the person in the car in front of you. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are developing an ad hoc networking system for cars that would allow any driver to broadcast music to any other vehicle within a 30-mile radius. Developed by a group of current and former master's students at the Human Computer Interaction Institute, the Roadcasting project would allow drivers to stream their Mp3 music collections by Wi-Fi or similar technology to any other vehicle within range that is equipped with compatible hardware and software. "What's really cool about this is that while you're busy (driving), Roadcasting will just pick songs that you enjoy," said Mathilde Pignol, one of the Roadcasting developers, "and then it will let you influence the songs with your music taste without you having to do anything."

The New Maid in Town
iRobot has delivered on its promise to bring out a counterpart to the much-loved Roomba, a floor cleaner. The Scooba will vacuum, scrub and dry floors for you automatically without requiring any other input from the user than pointing, maniacal laughter and shouts of "clean for me robot minion, clean!" Like its brother Roomba, the Scooba will have the same clever programming, including edge-following to ensure cleaning close to walls, and sensors to avoid both wayward furniture and stairs. Furthermore, you can set up 'virtual walls' using infrared beams that confine the robot to the area of your choice.

Games Migrate to Mobile Phones
While next-generation consoles and cutting-edge graphics dominate the floor at E3, if you look around the edges, away from the crowds, you'll find a number of companies hoping that the next big platform will be one that you may already have in your pocket: the mobile phone. Cell phones are largely sub-standard and often more than a decade behind the times in rendering power. Nevertheless, there are plenty of game producers banking on them. Developer In-Fusio has scaled-down versions of Age of Empires and Banjo-Kazooie on display. Games based on movies are also as popular in the mobile phone world as they are in the console world, with tiny video versions of Peter Jackson's King Kong, Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds and Revenge of the Sith all making appearances. "Right now, the number of phones that support 3D games is very small," says Sanette Chao, communications manager of Gameloft. "The majority of phones are 2D phones. Give that another year, and that's going to completely change."


Source: Google, IANS, Wired and Webindia123

Compiled by: Imran H. Khan

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2005