Prerequisites of the Development of a Personalised Virtual Butler

In most scenarios of the future, e.g. the one commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research in their Vision "Living in a Networked World: Individually and Safely" and undertaken by the Institute of Future Studies and Technology Assessment "Tina and her Butler" there is a personalised virtual butler which not only performs communication and coordination tasks but also gives recommendations how to handle everyday problems and which also knows her quirks. This butler has to be trained by its mistress/master but it also has to learn as to whether its assistance is welcome.

The aim of this project was to explore the prerequisites of such a personalised virtual butler: What is known about the needs of elder people, which results are provided by gerontopsychology and, especially, which methods of information and communication technologies, especially artificial intelligence, are already available or have to be developed further in which direction in order to realise such a virtual butler in the foreseeable future?

Three topics of the several which were treated in this project:

As Leopold Rosenmayer wrote, "The older we grow the more individual we become" the virtual butler has to develop an individual personality and interest model of its mistress/master and has to be able to modify it. How could such a general personality structure be "individualised" through interaction and then be modified? The decisions regarding communication interfaces and the action possibilities of the virtual butler will be of great importance: will it be realised only virtually, receiving only acustic and visual informations and with the only possibility of reacting acoustically; or will it be realised also graphically, communicating with mimic and gestures; or will it be realised as robot, receiving also tactile information and having the possibility of moving in space and acting manually? What are the constraints and what are the options of each of this variants? Current assistance systems take care mainly of everyday activities and their support. Especially with elderly people there seems to be the risk that they ignore or forget other needs, namely the ones which A. Maslow named "growth needs", e.g. cognitive and aesthetic needs, the need for self-actualisation and for transcendence. A virtual butler should be aware of these needs too; how could a support in this respect look like and how could it be implemented? A two-day workshop "Your Virtual Butler: Prerequisites for its Development" was held at OFAI, with participants from Austria, Canada, Germany, Italy, the UK, and the USA.

The results of this project, enriched by the contributions of scientists who were not able to attend the workshop will be published in book-form as "Your Virtual Butler: The Making of".

Research staff