Empirical Studies on Embodied Conversational Agents
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A great deal of effort has been put into developing Embodied Conversational Agent (ECA) systems that provide a human-like assistant in the user interface. However, little is known whether improvements to ECA interfaces made by such efforts can ever be significant from the users point of view. I studied user experiences with ECA interfaces and evaluated the ECA style of interaction with respect to user expectation, perception, behavior and performance. I introduce a conceptual framework that offers a holistic view of the design space of ECA systems. I also have created a middleware toolkit that facilitates rapid development of application content across different speech and animation platforms. A series of user studies has been carried out to investigate the similarities and differences between human-computer interaction and human-ECA interaction and between human-ECA interaction and human-human interaction. Results from these studies provide strong evidence that people are consciously aware of the capabilities and limitations of ECAs. Traditional GUI design heuristics should be carefully followed when designing ECA interfaces. Furthermore, the results soundly suggest that designers of ECA interfaces take extra care to accommodate individual differences and preferences. Social norms that guide human-human interaction greatly affect individuals expectation and perception of ECA characteristics. The findings support the argument that drawing from both human-computer interaction and human-human interaction can be significantly advantageous to the design of both effective and affective human-ECA interaction.