Thursday, February 24, 2005

Sad, Lonely? For a Good Time, Call Vivienne*

The New York Times > Technology > Sad, Lonely? For a Good Time, Call Vivienne*: I see that Artificial Life, the company that produced the software I used to create virtual Caesar, has apparently abandoned their efforts to sell ridiculously priced virtual sales agents and have turned to development of "virtual" friends for lonely cell phone users.

One of the biggest problems they encountered in their original product line, in my opinion, was the amount of time and knowledge it takes to produce a custom virtual agent for a particular company with a specific focus. Now, they are concentrating on producing non-specific "friends" that can be programmed with generic "chit-chat" and used by a much larger pool of potential customers. I suppose this might be a more viable business model but sadly, like the shallow entertainment of "reality" television, it does little to explore the educational potential of their software.

"Eberhard Schoneburg, the chief executive of the software maker Artificial Life Inc. of Hong Kong, may have found the answer: a virtual girlfriend named Vivienne who goes wherever you go.

Vivienne likes to be taken to movies and bars. She loves to be given virtual flowers and chocolates, and she can translate six languages if you travel overseas. She never undresses, although she has some skimpy outfits for the gym, and is a tease who draws the line at anything beyond blowing kisses.

If you marry her in a virtual ceremony, you even end up with a virtual mother-in-law who really does call you in the middle of the night on your cellphone to ask where you are and whether you have been treating her daughter right.

She may sound like a mixed blessing, decidedly high maintenance and perhaps the last resort of losers. But she is nonetheless a concept that cellphone system operators and handset manufacturers are starting to embrace.

Vivienne, the product of computerized voice synthesis, streaming video and text messages, is meant not only to bring business to Artificial Life (she will be available for a monthly fee of $6, not including the airtime costs paid to cellphone operators or the price of virtual chocolates and flowers). But she is also meant to be a lure for the new, higher-tech, third generation, or 3G, cellphones."
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