AI Behind Virtual Humans: Communicating the Capabilities and Impact of Artificial Intelligence to the Public through an Interactive Virtual Human Exhibit

July 1st, 2021 - June 30th, 2024 | PROJECT

The AI behind Virtual Humans Exhibit aims to communicate to the public about the capabilities and impact of artificial intelligence (AI) through AI technologies used in Virtual Humans including facial recognition and natural language processing. AI has and will continue to profoundly impact society in the United States and around the globe. It is important to prepare the nation’s youth and the future workforce with fundamental knowledge of AI. Informal settings, such as museums, offer open and flexible opportunities in helping youth and the general public learn about AI. Virtual Humans provide an ideal vehicle to illustrate many fields of AI, as AI is arguably the science of building intelligence that thinks and acts like humans. Led by a multidisciplinary team of researchers with expertise in AI, learning design, and assessment from the Institute for Creative Technologies at University of Southern California and the Lawrence Hall of Science at University of California, Berkeley, this project will develop a Virtual Human exhibit to engage visitors through structured conversations with a Virtual Human, while showcasing how AI drives the Virtual Human’s behavior behind the scenes. The exhibit will include collaborative learning experiences for visitors such as parent-child, siblings and peers to explore what AI is and is not, what AI is and is not capable of, and what impact it will have on their lives.

The project will investigate three research questions: (1) How can a museum exhibit be designed to engage visitor dyads in collaborative learning about AI? (2) How can complex AI concepts underlying the Virtual Human be communicated in a way that is understandable by the general public? And (3) How does and to what extent the Virtual Human exhibit increase knowledge and reduce misconceptions about AI?

The project leverages existing conversational Virtual Human technology developed through decades of collaborative research in AI, including machine vision, natural language processing, automated reasoning, character animation, and machine learning. Set in the informal setting of a museum, the exhibit will be designed following evidence-based research in Computer Supported Collaborative Learning. The project team will use a mixed methods design, drawing on design-based research methodologies and experimental studies. The research team will conduct analysis of visitor observations and interviews for iterative formative improvement. Randomized experimental studies will be conducted in both lab and naturalistic environments to gauge visitor knowledge about AI. Quasi-experimental analyses will be performed to study the relationship between engagement with exhibit features and AI knowledge. The project will produce an interactive exhibit with a Virtual Human installed at the Lawrence Hall of Science and other participating museums, and instruments to measure AI learning. The project will also produce a website where visitors can experience parts of the exhibit online and continue more in-depth learning about AI and the Virtual Human technology. The project holds the potential for producing theoretical and practical advances in helping the general public develop an understanding of AI capability and ethics, advancing knowledge in the process through which young learners develop knowledge about AI, and formulating design principles for creating collaborative learning experiences in informal settings. The results will be disseminated through conference presentations, scholarly publications, and social media. The Virtual Human exhibit will be designed for dissemination and made available for installations at informal science education communities.

Project Website(s)

(no project website provided)

Team Members

Ning Wang, Principal Investigator, University of Southern California
eric greenwald, Co-Principal Investigator
Ari Krakowski, Co-Principal Investigator


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 2116109
Funding Amount: $1,604,219.00


Audience: Families | General Public | Learning Researchers | Museum | ISE Professionals | Scientists
Discipline: Computing and information science
Resource Type: Project Descriptions | Projects
Environment Type: Exhibitions | Museum and Science Center Exhibits

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This material is supported by National Science Foundation award DRL-2229061, with previous support under DRL-1612739, DRL-1842633, DRL-1212803, and DRL-0638981. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations contained within are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF.

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