The Communicator Enhancement of Group Communication Efficiency and Creativity

Philip Rubin, Murray Hirschbein, Tina Masciangioli, Tom Miller, Cherry Murray, R.L. Norwood, and John Sargent

As envisioned, The Communicator will be a "smart," multifaceted, technical support system that relies on the development of convergent technologies to help enhance human group communication in a wide variety of situations, including meetings (both formal and informal), social exchanges, workplace collaborations, real-world corporate or battle training situations, and educational settings. This system will rely on expected advances in nanotechnology, fabrication, and a number of emerging information technologies, both software and hardware. In this system, these technologies will be tightly coupled with knowledge obtained from the biological and cognitive domains. The convergence of these technologies will serve to enhance existing attributes of individuals and remove barriers to group communication. This system will consist of a set of expanding implementations of these convergent technologies, growing more complex as the individual technologies mature over time. Some of these implementations are described below.

The initial goal of The Communicator is simple: to remove the kinds of barriers that are presently common at meetings where participants rely for communication on similar but slightly varying technologies. For example, it is standard for meeting participants to use software such as PowerPoint to present their ideas, but they often encounter technical difficulties moving between computers and computer platforms different from those on which they created their presentations. The transfer of information between systems during meetings is often hampered by varying media, connector differences, and incompatible data standards. At its simplest level, The Communicator would serve as an equalizer for communication in such situations, detecting the technological requirements of each participant and automatically resolving any differences in the presentation systems. The transfer and presentation of information would then become transparent.

Moving beyond this initial implementation, The Communicator would serve to remove more significant communication barriers, such as those related to physical disabilities or language differences. For example, the system, once apprised of a group member's hearing impairment, could tailor a presentation to that participant's needs by captioning the spoken or other auditory information. Similarly, it could produce auditory transcriptions of information presented visually in a group situation for any visually impaired member of the group. It could also provide simultaneous translation of meeting proceedings into a number of languages.

At the heart of The Communicator system are nano/info technologies that will allow individuals to carry with them electronically stored information about themselves that they can easily broadcast as needed in group situations. Such information might include details about preferences, interests, and background. Early implementations of this approach are doable now.

An even more interesting and advanced implementation would consist of detection and broadcast of the physiological and affective states of group participants with the purpose of providing resources to individuals and tailoring interactivity in order to allow the group to more easily achieve its goals. Detection of participants' physiological and affective states would be determined by monitoring biological information (such as galvanic skin response and heart rate) and cognitive factors via pattern recognition (such as face recognition to detect facial emotion, and voice pitch analysis to detect stress levels). Based on determinations of the needs and physical and cognitive states of participants, The Communicator could tailor the information it supplies to each individual, providing unique resources and improving productivity. Participants would have the ability to define or restrict the kinds of information about themselves that they would be willing to share with other members of the group.

As an example of this implementation, in an international conference or tribunal, each participant could select simultaneous translation of the discourse. Through PDA-like devices or biopatches, the system could measure the empathy levels or stress levels of all negotiators. A personal avatar would serve as a "coach" for each individual, recalling past statements, retrieving personal histories, and functioning as a research assistant to prepare material for use in arguments and deliberations. The system would facilitate the building of consensus by identifying areas of nominal disagreement and searching for common values and ideas.

Beyond facilitation of group communication. The Communicator could also serve as an educator or trainer, able to tailor its presentation and able to operate in a variety of modes, including peer-to-peer interaction and instructor/facilitator interaction with a group. The Communicator would function as an adaptive avatar, able to change its personal appearance, persona, and affective behavior to fit not only individuals or groups but also varying situations.

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