About the Virtual Person Project

The Virtual Person Project is an interdisciplinary, student-faculty, research and curriculum project. Student-faculty research teams from several different discipines (computer science, philosophy, industrial technology, psychology, linguistics and English) and representing several educational institutions (universities, colleges and even high schools) are working together to create a "virtual person". A virtual person is a computer-animated agent that is controlled by artificial intelligence software and occupies its own computer-animated environment. The goal is to create a (relatively) autonomous agent (dubbed, "Virtual Cyd") that will be able to converse with human beings (via a computer keyboard or voice recognition software), remember what it learns, perform numerous actions within its environment and make "moral judgements" about the acceptibility of its actions.

The Development Process

Among the primary beneficiaries of the project will be the students who gain valuable experience not only in their area of specialization (e.g., computer programming, philosophy of mind, computer animation, linguistics, psychology) but also in their role as a contributing member of an interdisciplinary, student-faculty research team. The Virtual Person Project is just one of several research programs that lie at the heart of a progressive new curriculum initiative at Illinois State called Interdisciplinary Research-Oriented Curriculum (IRC). A central goal of IRC is to create an interactive web-based curriculum designed around student research projects.

The Final Product

The final product will be a piece of software that will run on an advanced PC, that will be downloadable off of the Internet and that will be designed for use by students and faculty both in the classroom and out. It will help students to think about the nature of language, memory, intelligence, consciousness, moral reasoning, rational judgment and personhood. In addition to the program itself, there will also be an extensive website detailing precisely how the virtual person was created. Thus, students and faculty from other institutions will have a "blueprint" so that they can duplicate the feat.