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Cyber Agent to Interact with Users

Two local inventors have co-developed a virtual personality that can dynamically interact with online customers and be used in a wide variety of Internet applications.

Velanthiran Subramaniam and Stanley Quek call the technology “Botizen,” derived from words “robot” and “citizen” and their first creation comes in the form of “Siti,” a petite cyber girl(Fig) with all the charm of a polite salesperson.

“Siti is an intelligent cyber agent that can answer user questions from a knowledge database in real-time. She can be a virtual spokesperson or cyberguide for Websites and can chat and entertain visitors,” said Velanthiran, co-founder and chief business officer of VQ Interactive Sdn Bhd.

Siti was developed over 14 months at the cost of about US$90,000 using a combination of currently available artificial intelligence (AI), Natural Language Processing (NLP), speech technologies and 3D-modeling software.

Newscast Model

Velanthiran and Quek said they drew inspiration from British virtual newscaster Ananova and Sony Corp’s robot dog Aibo in conceptualizing the new product.

The pair point out that the Botizen technology has several advantages over Ananova. “Siti offers two-way interaction and can ‘converse’ with customers the way humans do. For example, she can help users choose a product or fill up a form or provide support services. She can also record entire conversations providing invaluable customer profile information, especially for online storefronts. Website owners can learn from each customer interaction, enabling them to compile and understand customers’ buying patterns and trends,” said Velanthiran.

The Botizen accepts questions in natural language, picks up on keywords, matches them against a database and responds accordingly in text, audio and real-time animation.

Velanthiran said the answers in the knowledge database can be improved for accuracy as it goes along. If the Botizen cannot answer customers’ questions, it can enable a live agent to intervene to resolve the issue smoothly and quickly, he added.

Customized Web

The Botizen can also be customized for any Website, even those that are Wireless Application Protocol-enabled. The company already has a stable of various other personalities in the pipeline for differing customer needs and plans are also afoot to develop multi-lingual versions of the product, apart from English, including Japanese, Mandarin, French and Spanish by 2001.

The Botizen is browser-independent and can run on Unix, Linux, Windows and Apache-based servers. Minimum requirements are a 200MHz processor with 64 Mbytes of RAM and 10 Mbytes of hard disk space.

VQ Interactive has already secured two contracts worth US$120,000, one from a French-based computer company, Xentium Computing Co, which is developing a cybermall, and the other from US-based portal player Internet-center.com Inc.

The company is targeting high-traffic, e-commerce Websites in the telecommunication, banking, tourism, education and media industries as well as government departments.

“We have many inquiries from potential clients in Singapore and Dubai and various parties interested in becoming resellers from Australia, Japan, India, UK and Germany,” said Velanthiran.

He added that with the millions of active Websites, the market for its product was wide open.

“We are confident that virtual agents are here to stay. They can enhance a Website and make it more friendly, efficient and interactive and provide feedback that will enable companies to improve their products and services,” he said.

by Julian Matthews, Kuala Lumpur

(January 2001 Issue, Nikkei Electronics Asia)

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