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Home | Seminars and Symposia | Past seminars/symposia: Tuesday, February 20, 2007

DTC Science and Technology Innovators Lecture Series

Making (Virtual) Friends and Influencing (Virtual) People: Building Rapport in Humans and Virtual Humans


Justine Cassell
Northwestern University

Tuesday, February 20, 2007
4:30 p.m. reception
5:00 p.m. seminar

402 Walter Library

Harmony or rapport between people is essential for relationships as diverse as seller-buyer and teacher-learner. In this talk I describe the kinds of verbal behaviors — such as small talk and using the same accent — and non-verbal behaviors — such as attention, positivity, and coordination — that function together to establish a sense of rapport between two people in conversation. These studies are used as the basis for the implementation of embodied conversational agents (virtual humans) who/that are capable of acting as friends and collaborators. Applications of this work have ranged from direction-giving systems that can be trusted, to virtual peers that help children acquire literacy skills, and systems to help children with autism learn about reciprocal social interaction.


Justine Cassell is the director of the Center for Technology and Social Behavior at Northwestern University, and a full professor in the departments of Communication Studies and Computer Science. Before coming to Northwestern, Cassell was a tenured associate professor at the MIT Media Lab where she directed the Gesture and Narrative Language Research Group. In 2001, Cassell was awarded the Edgerton Faculty Achievement Award at MIT. Cassell holds undergraduate degrees in Comparative Literature from Dartmouth and in Lettres Modernes from the Universite de Besançon (France). She holds a M.Phil in Linguistics from the University of Edinburgh (Scotland) and a dual Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in Linguistics and Psychology. After having spent ten years studying verbal and non-verbal aspects of human communication through microanalysis of videotaped data she began to bring her knowledge of human conversation to the design of computational systems. Cassell's research concentrates on better understanding everyday kinds of conversation and storytelling, and on building computational systems that simulate, mediate, and facilitate those everyday kinds of talk. These technologies, such as Embodied Conversational Agents, Story Listening Systems, and Online Communities, in turn allow her to study the nature of human interaction with and through technology.