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October 20, 2009

‘Virtual Human’ Designer Stacy Marsella Will Discuss Research Oct. 27

Talk is part of a yearlong speaker series combining technology with the visual arts

Stacy Marsella, a research associate professor of computer science at the University of Southern California, will present his research “Cognition and Emotion in Virtual Humans” 4:15 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 27, in Hugel Science Center room 108.

The event is part of a yearlong series bringing together artists and scientists to talk about their techniques for combining technology with the visual arts. It is free and open to the public. Marsella will be on campus Oct. 27-29 to meet with students and faculty from anthropology and sociology, art, computer science, neuroscience, and psychology.

The series is made possible by a grant from the Mellon Foundation through the efforts of Ed Kerns, Eugene H. Clapp II ’36 Professor of Art; Chun Wai Liew, associate professor and head of computer science; and Jim Toia, director of the art department’s Community-Based Teaching program. Alex Gibney, an Oscar, Emmy, and Grammy award-winning documentary film director, kicked off the series earlier this month. Other speakers will include sculptor Loren Madsen, Feb. 24-26, and Jonah Lehrer, author of Proust Was a Neuroscientist, April 7-8.

Marsella is the associate director of social simulation research and co-director of the Computational Emotion Group at Southern California. He heads projects on virtual humans, social simulation, interactive drama, emotions, and theory of mind.

According to Marsella, virtual humans are autonomous virtual characters that can have meaningful interactions with human users. They can reason about the environment, understand and express emotion, and communicate using speech and gesture. He will discuss the various applications of virtual humans in education, health intervention, and entertainment, where they can be in the role of teacher, peer, or competitor.

The speaker series has come about due to the success of the Emergent Patterns project, a multi-year collaboration among Kerns, Liew, and Elaine Reynolds, associate professor of biology and chair of neuroscience. The project has allowed students from technical and artistic backgrounds to work together to produce artwork by exploring the complex patterns and processes that can emerge in visual structures. The culmination of this work is on display in the Computation, Vision: Emergence exhibition running Oct. 20 through Dec. 12 in the Williams Visual Arts Building.

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