Easy with Eve is a new virtual teaching system developed by researcher Hossein Sarrafzadeh and his development group from the Institute of Information and Mathematical Sciences in Auckland, New Zealand. Eve's Final Fantasy-like facade hides the real engineering; Eve is designed to be a one-to-one system that constantly monitors a student better than a living teacher.

"Researchers wanted to create a virtual teacher that could pick up body language and facial expressions like a real teacher, to ensure they are holding the attention of students," Dr. Sarrafzadeh said. He added, "With rising demand for long-distance learning and online tutoring, a computer program capable of detecting human emotions may become a critical teaching tool."

The Eve computer system uses a variety of methods to watch a student; a digital camera monitors the child's facial expressions and body language. Dr. Sarrafzadeh's team observed children and their interactions with teachers; by analyzing thousands of images, they built Eve with the ability to detect when children are frustrated, angry or confused by the material being taught.

Heart rate and skin resistance are also gathered (via a special mouse); this data is added to Eve's understanding of each individual child and their requirements.

The animated avatar - Eve - can ask questions, give feedback, discuss problems and solutions. Eve can also show emotions to help keep the attention of each student. "When we interact with people we expect them to take note of our feelings and reactions. Soon we will be able to expect the same from a computer," says Dr Sarrafzadeh.

Science fiction writers have been dreaming about computer systems that could teach human beings for a long while. An early favorite of mine are the city fathers from James Blish's marvelous 1950's novels gathered in "Cities in Flight ."

For Eve, however, there is probably a closer analogue. In "Twenty Evocations," Bruce Sterling writes about a composite expert system.

When Nikolai Leng was a child, his teacher was a cybernetic system with a holographic interface. The holo took the form of a young Shaper woman. It's "personality" was an interactive composite expert system manufactured by Shaper psychotechs. Nikolai loved it.

(Read more about the cybernetic teaching system.)

It would be odd if Eve, the virtual teacher, made use of little teaching assistant robots to help out in the classroom; see Toddlers Embrace Robot Playmates for details.

Read more about Virtual Eve, the virtual teacher who understands. Also, take a look at a video of Easy with Eve.

(This Science Fiction in the News story used with permission of Technovelgy.com - where science meets fiction.)