|Students Tutored by Female Robot Called Maria
|Shahin Maghsoudi (left) and Dr Tiru Arthanari with Maria (centre).
Statistics students at The University of Auckland are being tutored by a well spoken, blonde female tutor with a vocabulary of 203,000 words and who can recall hundreds of thousands of logic and grammar rules - but she's tutoring from behind a computer screen.
Maria, an assistant teacher in the statistics department, is a robot, or artificial intelligence (AI) entity, created over two years of intense work and study by Shahin Maghsoudi, a PhD student and member of the AI Group in the Faculty of Science.
As part of his Masters degree in Computer Science, Shahin embarked on a project to create virtual robots which could be used as teaching assistants, helpdesk operators and web-based marketing assistants. He has already created eight such robots. Of these, Maria is live on the internet, awaiting a patent, and being trialed on a test group of students.
Maria was created through the joint efforts of Shahin and Dr Tiru Arthanari from the University's School of Business. Dr Arthanari teaches inferential statistical methods as part of a research methods paper. His goal in collaborating with Shahin was to create an electronic "assistant" who would be available 24 hours-a-day and seven days-a-week to answer multiple student questions simultaneously as if they were having one-to-one conversations. Dr Arthanari built a special database to fuel Maria, part of which is dedicated to current student profiles. It can be populated either using a "conversation" mode - where students can actually communicate with Maria via the keyboard, or by the student filling in a form when first interacting with the system.
"What we are really doing is creating an illusion. The more care we take about the choice of words, the more effective the interaction will be. A student can easily be put off by abruptness so we needed to create an engaging robot with a polite manner," Dr Arthanari says.
Shahin is a computer engineer from Iran who migrated to New Zealand in 1990. His next project, as part of his PhD studies in the Computer Sciences Department, is to look at commonsense reasoning and ways of "teaching" the robots to make commonsense judgements.
Shahin has already begun collaborating with the Electrical Engineering Department at The University of Arizona to create a virtual teacher of electrical engineering concepts.
To talk with Maria or any of the other robots visit http://www.robot-hosting.com/.To see the University of Auckland's original press release see here.