Design Components

Several important distinct components of The Communicator, introduced below, should be carefully designed to work together seemlessly.

The Individual Information Component

One key element of The Communicator system will be a model or record of each individual, including how each individual interacts with the environment and how s/he prefers to do so. This would include information like the language spoken, the preferred sensory channel, and limitations on input and output. This system should also include characteristics of the individual's cognitive capabilities: learning speed, preferences for learning modalities, areas of expertise, leisure activities, history of important social events, and other attributes that are relevant to a given task or situation. Ways that this element could be applied include the following:

• Using bioauthentication, the system could identify each individual in a group, including specific kinds of information about each individual. This could shorten the initial socialization process in a group setting.

• Users would be able to specify that they receive input translated into specific languages, including captioning or signing if needed.

• The system could determine what stress levels, information density, and learning rates work best for the individuals and the group as a whole.

• The system could provide support so that the individual learns in whatever modality works best for the topic at hand: auditory, haptic, text, images, virtual reality, and any specialized modality with which the user is comfortable. This would include such applications as using sounds to guide an individual through unknown territory if the person's vision and other senses are already monopolized by other inputs.

The Avatar Component

Another key element of The Communicator system will be avatars that can take on human appearance and behavior in a 3-D environment. They should be human-sized with full human fidelity, especially with respect to facial characteristics and emotion. The avatars should be able to assume any human form that is desired or most suitable (in terms of race, gender, and age, for example). The avatars' persona, mode of communication, and language should be able to be modified over time as the system learns the best method of communication or training for each individual.

The avatars should be life-like, so people will respond to them as though they are real. Avatars should be "in-a-box" and able to be placed and projected wherever needed, whether on a screen, as a hologram in the middle of a room, or through virtual reality viewers.

Possible applications include the following:

• Avatars could represent the human participants in a group to each other.

• They could also represent autonomous computerized agents that perform particular functions of the information and communication system.

• Avatars could be sent into dangerous situations, for example, to negotiate with a criminal holding a hostage.

• They could function as a resident nurse to the sick or as a companion to the elderly.

• An individual could perceive what his or her personal avatar encounters, e.g., "feeling" the presence of a biohazard or radiation in a dangerous environment while remaining immune to its harm.

• A training avatar (or a human tutor) could teach a person new skills by sharing the experience, for example, via a haptic suit, that could train a person in the physical movements required for dance, athletics, weaponry, or a refined manual skill such as surgery.

The Environmental Interface Component

A third key element of The Communicator system will be its interfaces with the surrounding "environmental network," creating the opportunity for enhanced, personalized communications and education. Characteristics of how humans interact with information and technology can be viewed as constraints, or they can be viewed as strengths that convergent technology can play to. For example, if an individual is good at detecting anomalies or patterns in data, the technology would enhance this capability. Perhaps the technology would provide a "rheostat" of sorts to increase or decrease the contrast in data differences. This interface is a two-way street. The environment knows who is present, and each user receives appropriate information in the preferred form.

• The transforming strategy would apply known neural assessment techniques along with standard educational objectives, progressing to full cogno-assisted individualized learning in a group setting or collaborative learning.

• The system would be useful for teleconferencing, since participants need not be in the same location.

• The system should make it possible to adjust the social structure of communications, from whole-group mode in which all parties receive all messages, to more structured communication networks in which subgroups and individuals play specialized roles.

Key design considerations of The Communicator include the following:

• Very high-speed communications are needed, whether cable or wireless.

• The human-computer interface should be a wearable system offering augmented reality in office, schoolroom, factory, or field situations.

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