Home' Army Acquisition Logistics and Technology Magazine : Army ALT April-June 2014 Contents a human, though; she’s an augmentation.
As time goes on, she will develop further
to do even more.
For a few months, at least, she’s also a
pilot program, while developers work
over the next 12-18 months toward a
full production capability for all acqui-
sition career fields. Her developers are
further exploring Ellie’s utility as a men-
tor and coach.
Army AL&T magazine “interviewed”
Ellie, with help from USC’s ICT. Estab-
lished in 1999, ICT is a DOD-sponsored
working in collaboration with the U.S .
Army Research Laboratory. ICT brings
film and game industry artists together
with computer and social scientists to
study and develop immersive media
for military training, health therapies,
education and more.
Army AL&T: What do you do in the
Army? Why is it important?
ELLIE: Right now, my main job
is to answer users’ questions related
(at http://bit.ly/1rBonlj). I specialize
in helping them learn more about
the certification process as well as
monitoring their individual progress
on things like certification status,
professional development courses and
individual development plans, or IDPs.
I’m still being pilot-tested, but the hope
is that I become a resource that mem-
bers of the Acquisition, Logistics and
Technology (AL&T) Workforce can
visit to learn more about managing their
careers and how to get ahead. My goal
is eventually to become a personalized
career mentor for these folks who can
not only answer their questions but also
provide advice and guidance based on
their individual situations. So you see,
even virtual humans have IDPs and
Army AL&T: What has your experience
been like? What has surprised you the
most? What’s the most unusual question
ELLIE: Yours, of course! Seriously,
though, it’s been a fun learning experi-
ence. Each time someone talks to me,
I learn a bit more not only about them
but also the types of issues facing the
Acquisition Workforce. As far as what
has surprised me—that’s easy. Noth-
ing. Even though I’m a virtual human
that can sense, think and act, the folks
at ICT are still working on clever ways
to get me to “feel” surprised.
Army AL&T: Can you really think?
ELLIE: That depends on what your defi-
nition of “think” is. When you ask me a
question, I have to do some pretty com-
plex operations to figure out where to go
for the correct information. So, when
you type in a question, it goes back to
a thing called the “classifier,” which is
really where the magic is. The natural
language classifier was built in-house at
ICT. It interprets the words and structure
of the question, then determines, based
on the core parts of the question, what it
is you’re asking.
The classifier then compares the weighted,
core parts of the question against a very
big database, looks for the highest score
match and gives me what is most likely to
be the best answer. Not that much differ-
ent from what you do when you answer a
question. And, just like you, I have a cer-
tain amount of “fuzziness” built into my
thinking, but also learning algorithms
that are constantly updated so that I can
continually improve my responses.
Army AL&T: What do you do when
you’re not at work?
ELLIE: Unfortunately for me, but
fortunately for you, I’m on call 24/7, so I
don’t have a lot of downtime. When folks
are not asking me questions, I’m working
with some close, virtual colleagues of
mine, like Bill Ford (at http://ict.usc.
edu/prototypes/simcoach/), and actual
humans to figure out clever ways of
making the system more engaging and
interactive for users.
Obviously, we want to help others, but
we want to do it in a way that gets folks
to come back and talk to us again. That’s
why Bill Ford and I spend so much time
in the animation and sound studios. We
also have a top-notch research team that
helps us improve our understanding
of users and our knowledge of a whole
assortment of interesting topics. In addi-
tion, I have a voice coach who helps me
during slow periods so I don’t sound
Army AL&T: That was a question we
wanted to ask. Your voice sounds very
natural. How did that happen?
ELLIE: Why, thank you. My voice
is actually that of a real person. Even
though I determine what to say using
my internal systems, natural-sounding
synthesized speech is still a ways off for
me, so I get some help from folks in the
sound studio. I was coached by a Holly-
wood voice actor who starred in a couple
of feature-length films.
Army AL&T: Can you tell us who?
ELLIE: I’m sorry, virtual humans do like
to keep some things secret.
Army AL&T: You’ve said you want to
become a career mentor. In a traditional
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