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Computer science

Contact of the third degree

Digital platform improves the relationship of the users with the Internet

At the beginning of the 1990, the Internet had no interactivity with the information that appeared on the screen. The first digital generation, or web 1.0, was basically “passive” and accessed by users almost exclusively to obtain data, as if it was a large encyclopedia. Sometime later, it became a two-way street and started offering users a varied range of interactive possibilities. It is at this stage, web 2.0, a term suggested in 2004 by North American businessman, Tim O’Reilly, that we find ourselves today. But the IT theoreticians already have their sights on a third stage, web 3.0, that will be a type of “intelligent” Internet, in which programs will intensify the interactions among them to compose new resources and services in a new dimension. For this scenario the JamSession Platform was devised at the University of São Paulo (USP), which is both a software environment for mediating and coordinating digital services and a computing architecture for building virtual agents capable of reacting to the actions of users.

The JamSession Project was developed in the Department of Computer Science at the Institute of Mathematics and Statistics (IME-USP), with the support of the FAPESP-Microsoft Research Virtual Institute, an initiative for helping research projects in information and communication technologies proposed by university researchers and research institutes in São Paulo. “The project focus was the perception that computer technologies are transforming interactions between people and digital systems, between systems themselves and people with people,” explains Flávio Soares Correa da Silva, a professor at the IME-USP and coordinator of the JamSession. According to Correa da Silva, the purpose of the project is to prepare software architecture for constructing virtual worlds with specific objectives. “Put simply, the JamSession is a platform that uses concepts and techniques of artificial intelligence, in which the systems receive and process information in an autonomous way, or almost ‘reason’ alone and start supplying solutions for integrating pre-existing digital resources, like software and games, and producing new results that can improve the interaction of the user with the computer,” says the researcher.

Emotion and empathy
In practice, the platform, aimed at programmers, can be used to build various systems, like electronic government, intelligent environments for supporting people with special needs and social systems for responses to emergency situations. What they have in common is that they can rely on virtual individuals who interact with users, even with facial expressions. It is possible for them to express moods, emotions and to create empathetic relationships between users and systems. Virtual attendants would appear on the computer screen that are capable of understanding a user’s problem and producing solutions. To build these applications, new projects are being organized with the collaboration of partners in research institutions in Brazil and abroad. “The results of the JamSession are systems that are freely available for use with open code and found on the site, with a link to the illustration alongside. The platform is ready for use, but improvements and extensions are likely to appear in new versions, as a result of using the system in current applications,” says Flávio da Silva. He explains that the source of inspiration for the name of the project came from jam sessions that originated in the 1940’s in New York, in which musicians got together at the end of the night, after their regular shows to play freely. “Jam” is the abbreviation for “jazz after midnight”. “From these get-togethers came trends, new ways of composing and a lot of innovation on the musical plane,” points out the amateur saxophonist. “Our intention is that, within the IT environment, the platform fulfills the same role as jam sessions in the musical scene.”

One of the possible applications of the platform is improving the services of electronic government. It could, for example, help in the creation of a virtual version of Poupatempo, a program of the São Paulo government that offers various services to the population, the most requested being the issue of identity cards, criminal record statements, labor record booklets and driving licenses. “In electronic government, JamSession can act on two fronts. First, by mediating the interaction between the virtual systems offered by various public bodies, with the aim of expanding the services offered. Second, making the user-computer interface more friendly, by using self-explanatory animation. In this way the platform makes access more democratic, allowing parts of the population that are not familiar with the Internet to access services virtually,” explains the researcher. In the future, for example, with the help of JamSession the user may be able to interact with a virtual character in order to obtain an identity card remotely without having to go to a branch of Poupatempo, or fill out forms.

Another possibility for use of the platform is managing messages in emergency situations, such as in floods, robbery attempts or traffic jams. In the case of flooding on the Tietê expressway in São Paulo, for example, JamSession would receive information from sensors about the level of the river and information about users close to where it is overflowing. By using artificial intelligence resources the program would be capable of qualifying the messages received and categorizing them as being more or less reliable, in accordance with the source of the information – reports from volunteers and ordinary people would have less weight than information from civil defense professionals or traffic agents. Based on the information and messages received, the system would consider the situation and suggest the most appropriate actions. Use of the platform for this purpose is the object of study by Mirtha Lina Venero, a Cuban post-doctoral researcher at IME-USP.

The project
JamSession – a decentralized platform for specialized virtual worlds and the web 3.0 (nº 2008/53977-3); Modality Regular Support for a Research Project; Coordinator Flávio Soares Correa da Silva – USP; Investment R$ 113,680.00 (FAPESP)