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ICT’s Bill Swartout Wins Major AI Award

July 13, 2009

Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence recognizes achievements and service of William Swartout, a USC expert who has redefined personal computing

William Swartout, director of technology at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies, received international recognition for his pioneering work, including efforts towards creating virtual humans that look and behave just like real people.

Swartout, also a research professor of computer science at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, received the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence Robert S. Engelmore Memorial Lecture Award, one of the AI community’s top honors, for his contributions throughout a career devoted to expanding the ways humans and computers communicate with each other and exploring what can be achieved through improved interactions.

“This is a well-deserved recognition of Bill’s contributions to the field of artificial intelligence over the last three decades,” said Randal W. Hill, Jr., executive director of ICT.  “He has been at the head of two terrific research organizations and has a gift for attracting very talented researchers, building teams and promoting a vision for what is possible.  We are all very proud of Bill’s accomplishments and this acknowledgment from the AI community.”

As part of the award, Swartout delivered an address at this year’s Innovative Applications of Artificial Intelligence Conference on July 14 in Pasadena. He discussed the goal of creating ever more lifelike virtual humans. A related article will appear in an upcoming issue of AI Magazine.

“We want these computer generated characters to recognize our body language, facial expressions, voice tone and even express their own emotions as well,” said Swartout, who provides overall direction for research efforts at ICT. “The approach we take is to use all the things we know about how people behave and interact, encode that information in computer knowledge bases and use it to drive the behaviors of our virtual humans.”

Swartout is the principal investigator on a National Science Foundation-funded effort to create life-sized virtual human museum guides who have the ability to express knowledge, thoughts, feelings and even memories. These digital docents will be speaking with visitors at the Museum of Science, Boston late this year.

Swartout serves on the Board on Army Science and Technology of the National Academies, is a Fellow of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence and a member of the Joint Forces Command’s Transformation Advisory Group.  Before joining ICT in 1999, Swartout spent nearly two decades at USC’s Information Sciences Institute where he most recently led the Intelligent Systems division. He received his Ph.D. and M.S. in computer science from MIT and his bachelor’s degree from Stanford University.

In granting this year’s Engelmore Award, the AAAI noted Swartout’s, “seminal contributions to knowledge-based systems and explanation, groundbreaking research on virtual human technologies and their applications, and outstanding service to the artificial intelligence community.”

Robert Engelmore, for whom the award was named, was a leading and beloved figure in the field of AI. The award was established in 2003 to recognize his service to the organization and his achievements in his work.

“Bob was a wonderful person with the rare combination of a generous spirit and tack sharp mind,” said Swartout. “It is an honor to receive this award that bears his name.”