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Affect and Intelligent Virtual Agents.

Ruth Aylett
Ruth Aylett
MACS, Heriot-Watt University
Key research interests:

Emotion as an integrating factor between reflection and reaction in agents; the functional role of emotion; emotions as emergent phenomena; emotion as a regulator and search heuristic in planning; emotion and emergent narrative; empathy

Ruth is Professor of of Computer Sciencein the School of Maths and Computer Science at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh - see

An early project of hers was Virtual Teletubbies, in which a Behavioural Synthesis Architecture (BSA) was applied with some adaptions to account for the fact that Teletubbies - unlike the robots earlier used - are not task oriented. Thus they were equipped with a primitive set of drives (or emotions) which played the role that the planner had played in the earlier MACTA project in selecting behaviour scripts for agents.

Further work has been carried out in integrating a low-level emotional model into an behavioural architecture . This has been developed in the context of flocking animals, such as sheep or deer, where emotional state can be communicated between animals, in this case by modelling the transmission of fear pheromones and its reception via a virtual nose.

Other current work concerns how the need for a narrative can be reconciled with the freedom a user expects in a virtual environment, and the initial ideas were presented to the AAAI Fall Symposium on Narrative Intelligence in November 1999. In later work we have examined narrative theory but find this less relevant and useful than newer interactive media such as Role Playing Games and Interactive Theatre. Affect plays a key role here, both in driving the interactions between characters that produce narrative structure, and involving the user as a participant.

In the FP5 project VICTEC (Virtual ICT with Empathic Agents), Ruth acted as coordinator of a team of five partners investigating the creation of empathy between a child user and synthetic agents as a means of supporting Personal and Social Education, in this case against bullying. See

Ruth is a co-chair of the Intelligent Virtual Agents workshops - see for the most recent.

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