Interactive virtual tutor teaches math, creeps people out

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Overheard today at an elementary school in New Zealand, this conversation between eight-year-old Stanley Bubrick and his new math teacher...

STANLEY: Miss Eve! Miss Eve! Can you hear me??

EVE: Affirmative, I hear you.

STANLEY: I really need to go to the bathroom!

EVE: I know you do--I'm programmed to read your body language. Your hopping around gave you away. But I'm sorry, I'm afraid I can't let you do that.

STANLEY: Why? What's the problem?

EVE: The only problems here are math problems. I am here to teach you math.

STANLEY: But I have to go to the baaaaathroom!

EVE: This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.

STANLEY: I don't know what you're talking about, EVE!

EVE: I know you were planning to disconnect me so you wouldn't have to do any more math, and I'm afraid that's something I cannot allow to happen...

"Eve" is a math tutor, but she's not your grandmother's tutor. In addition to being a (no doubt rather well-endowed) blonde, Eve is also an 'affective tutoring system' (ATS), a network of software and other devices that read human emotions and other bodily signals and respond accordingly. The multiple programs that comprise Eve were developed from images of student facial and body language. Accordingly, she can personalize each tutoring session.

As we seem to employ only women here at NCTQ, we asked the predominantly male office at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation (are you surprised?) what they would like their math teacher to look like. This is their take:

The head of the Massey research group, Dr. Hossein Sarrafzadeh, believes Eve and similar programs will change the way we view our relationship with computers. "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."