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Your virtual assistant for personal financial advice


Added usability and intelligence has been brought to virtual assistants thanks to technology developed by European researchers, offering online users an entertaining, yet competent professional financial service.

“The interaction of natural language, online translation, 3D-avatar technology and artifical intelligence creates a powerful instrument that will find a wide acceptance among users,” says Ulrich Thiel at Germany’s Fraunhofer Integrated Publication and Information Systems Institute (IPSI) and partner in the European IST project VIP ADVISOR.

Using online, live communication in the TV-like surrounding of a virtual studio, the photorealistic avatar of the advisor simulates a real situation with a one-to-one personal dialogue accessible 24/7. The brower-based consulting system can be used from any computer. It is expected to help in the area of customer care to reduce service inquiries.

Project partners developed a unique interaction of several state-of-the-art technologies into a module that can be integrated into an existing electronic application or content management system. An Interaction Manager controls speech recognition and synthesis, online translation, as well as natural language-analysis and generation. It is fed with data from a knowledge database and specific risk management information.

VIP ADVISOR is unique because of the simplicity of its user interface, the possibility of seamless integration into existing platforms and workflows, as well as the use of natural language to navigate within the application. However, the very human-like nature of the avatar ushers in a challenge.

Ulrich explains: ”The development of intelligent persona systems using innovative application designs often leads to new technological problems. The more the advisor looks and behaves human-like, the more users will expect in terms of flexibility, knowledge and intelligence.”

Increasing the intelligence of a system usually involves adding knowledge sources and processes to handle them. The result is another challenge: ways to improve the filtering, indexing, retrieval and presentation of relevant external knowledge, for example documents from websites, as a natural continuation of the dialogue.

Several usability tests were performed involving 10 professional risk advisors who evaluated ease of interaction and the correctness of the answers. Ulrich reports that in most cases, the test results were positive.

Although the project ended in December 2003, Fraunhofer IPSI is continuing with the work on the advisor agent, which will be evaluated this summer in field experiments with the Darmstadt Chamber of Commerce. The final results could be a plug-in for existing counselling applications using existing content. This plug-in could be sold on a licensed basis and customised to meet the client’s needs.

Tara Morris | alfa
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