Virtual fitness trainer gets pulses racing

By Bennett Daviss AS I sit talking to her, it occurs to me that some people might consider Laura to be an ideal partner. Laura understands you. She doesn’t get mad when you ignore her suggestions; she knows how much pressure you’re under, and she does everything she can to help you meet your goals. She’s unfailingly kind, and she doesn’t judge. I like Laura a lot. Maybe Laura and I could have a beautiful future together. OK, I’m getting carried away. I’m not about to run off with a software character. But, as I chat with her about my weekly exercise regimen, I am strangely engaged in the conversation. And a few people have certainly lost all rational perspective on meeting Laura. “We had someone actually say they felt Laura liked them,” says Rosalind Picard, one of Laura’s creators. “That was really bizarre.” Bizarre, maybe, but gratifying. Picard, a computer scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s renowned Media Lab, is one of a group of researchers pioneering “affective computing”, an attempt to design software that can recognise and align with their users’ emotional states. Though it might seem an impracticable goal, “emotionally intelligent” software characters are proving otherwise. Laura’s friendly gestures, sympathetic eyebrow raises and soft,
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