It’s Alive!

Peter Plantec has come one step closer to mastering artificial intelligence. His book, Virtual Humans: Creating the Illusion of Personality (AMACOM; $34.95), is the leader in commercially marketed virtual human design. Ideal for graphic designers, scientific researchers, students, or tech geeks, this guide is accompanied by a CD-ROM that allows you to build your own virtual character, or V-person, from scratch. The author lets you make a reality out of what we called science fiction decades ago. The key to creating a V-person, Plantec says, is not to build artificial intelligence, but to fake real intelligence. His thorough handbook and user-friendly software make it possible for anyone to be part of a science that was once exclusive. Setting up the software requires the download of Microsoft Agent technology, which is available for free online at The software is compatible with most Windows operating systems and takes minutes to install and run.

Each chapter of Plantec’s book takes you through the process of creating your ideal V-person. Step-by-step instructions on how to manipulate facial features and personality functions are combined with background information on the theory at the core of artificial intelligence—consciousness, quantum theory, and biometrics being just a few examples. The complementary software is really where the fun begins. Using a rule generator that produces the character’s specifications, you can create a number of visual expressions and diverse brain functions in your V-person. The script editor allows you to adjust the specifications and chat with your V-person. Based on your input in the rule generator, you and your V-person can have a real, “unscripted” conversation. In addition, you can give voice to your characters by using the voice and speech recognition module.

Because the functions of V-people are so versatile, they can be used for education and exploration in the lab, classroom, office, or home. So whether it’s going to be for a new business venture or just a hobby, Virtual Humans is a fun (and only slightly creepy) way to explore personality in technology.