Thanks to Nik Peachey’s post last week about Virsona, I had a short text chat with an AI version of Abraham Lincoln this afternoon.

Chatting with Abraham Lincoln

This was our brief conversation:

Abraham Lincoln: Hi.
You: hello
Abraham Lincoln: who are you?
You: I am a teacher
Abraham Lincoln: Nice to meet you.
You: Why did we fight the civil war?
Abraham Lincoln: A profound sadness to see the Union ripped apart and brother set at brother. Did it make you sad too?
You: Of course. What were the REASONS for the war?
Abraham Lincoln: I understand. Short answer is for political reasons. To expand on that, in spite of the fact that the Battle of Gettysburg was a Union victory, it was also the bloodiest battle of the war and dealt a blow to my war efforts and the public”s ongoing support for the war. At the dedication of the Soldiers” National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on 19 November, in my now iconic speech, I referred to the events of the Civil War and described the ceremony at Gettysburg as an opportunity not only to dedicate the grounds of a cemetery, but also to consecrate the living in the struggle to ensure that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” I asked, what would these men who died for this cause want us to do–quit now or finish the job?
You: That was kind of a long answer. I am a slow reader today.
Abraham Lincoln: I was at the Ford’s Theatre watching one of my favorite plays, ‘Our American Cousin,’ when I was shot by Booth. Nice to meet you.

This site and concept is intriguing to me from the perspective of an educational prosumer. Students and teachers are not just limited to interacting with the existing AI characters on the site, but are also able to CREATE their own and further develop (teach) existing characters on the site. According to the Virsona website:

Virsonas are “Virtual Personas,” created to Reason, Remember and React in the same way that a living, fictional or historical person would. You can create the “Virtual You” as a Personal Virsona™ or you can create and / or interact with one of our Community Virsonas. Interacting with our Community Virsonas opens up a world of possibility – you can actually talk directly to one of your heroes, conduct research or simply have FUN! You can also create Virsonas of departed loved ones, your pet(s), as well as for commonly shared experiences, for example; “The First Kiss.”

Our Virsonas don’t know the answers to everything, but they are capable and willing to learn. As part of the Virsona Community, you can participate in “educating” them using the “Teach” button. So, if you chat with a Virsona and it doesn’t know the answer, simply create your free account, and you can begin to “teach” it by simply inputting the correct answers! That’s the beauty of a Community; participation, sharing and learning.

This can take historical role-playing and re-enacting to another level. As I develop the post-field trip extension activity ideas for the Oklahoma Heritage Association and Gaylord-Pickens Museum, websites like this provide food for thought and new tools for engaged learning. :-) How interesting to think that students could actually “teach” an AI historical character based on the things they’ve studied and learned about that person. What LoTi level would that learning task be assigned?

It would be cool if historical Virsonas could co-exist in Second Life to intelligently interact with others. I’m sure functionality similar to that is coming soon to a virtual world near you. :-)

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  • Hannah Grace

    I love this idea. I did not like history very much in elementary and high school. If I would have had something like this, I would have actually liked history. Textbooks are boring sometimes. It is neat to be able to interact with people from history (or at least someone portraying them). It would be great to have a conversation with someone I was learning about. I would remember it a lot better. I think this would be good for most students. I believe interaction is an important part of learning.

  • http://www.stager.org/blog Gary S. Stager, Ph.D.

    This would be a lot more interesting and educational if students had built the system. As I understand it, it is little more than a game of Eliza – a carnival stunt.

    Does it really matter if Abraham Lincoln was “sad” about the civil war? How does that contribute to understanding complex events?

    PS: The captcha is beyond annoying and difficult to read.

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    My understanding is that when a user (student or otherwise) creates an account on the site and clicks “teach” then s/he is able to train / teach / the virtual personality how to respond to different texts and cues. I haven’t tried this myself yet.

    Sorry the captcha can be difficult. The captcha system I am using here is for a good cause, however, and you can click the refresh button the captcha window to get a new set of words. I sometimes have to do that myself to post successfully.

  • http://nikpeachey.blogspot.com Nik Peachey

    Hi Glad you enjoyed my posting on AI for use with EFL ESL students. I’ve actually written up a lesson plan for history students which will be published on http://www.educationworld.com/ some time in October, which involves them creating historical figures for projects.

    As for Second Life. It is possible to have AI Chat bots in Second Life based on technology from http://alice.pandorabots.com/.
    I started eveloping this for a business course I was working on for a school in SL. Things went a bit belly up though so it never got finished.

    Anyway. Thaanks for the link to my article.

    Best

    Nik Peachey

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