The thinking head

Flinders University engineers in Australia have developed a novel artificial intelligence system called the Thinking Head.

Flinders University’s engineering ingenuity will be on show in Beijing during the Olympic Games when the most advanced version of their “Thinking Head” makes its international debut.

The product of an artificial intelligence research program at Flinders and three other Australian universities, the Thinking Head can talk, show emotions, maintain eye contact with visitors, and even compose basic poetry.

Flinders’ School of Informatics and Engineering Thinking Head research team, led by Associate Prof David Powers and including research associates Dr Martin Luerssen and Dr Trent Lewis, employed sophisticated algorithms and software programming to almost bring the Thinking Head to life with a range of facial expressions, gestures and eye contact.

In response to typed questions, the Thinking Head filters thousands of pieces of stored data to craft a response that is delivered in a ‘human’ voice. And, given a subject, can generate a simple rhyming couplet.

Associate Prof Powers said current challenges being tackled by the research team include the development of a lip-reading capability and the boosting of The Thinking Head’s ‘knowledge’ through access to the global, on-line encyclopedia, Wikipedia.

‘We hope to have developed an audio-visual speech recognition capability for the Thinking Head within the next 12 months,’ Associate Prof Powers said. ‘This lip-reading capability will allow spoken conversation with the Thinking Head even in noisy exhibition halls.’

With information provided through strategically placed cameras, the Thinking Head notes variations in skin tones to identify the various parts of a face in front of it, estimates the distances between key features like eyes and ears, and builds up a picture of a human face that it will, in time, be able to recognise from memory.

With a German partner, the Flinders technology is about to be redeployed to teach German to school children. Eventually, it will even have the capability to respond with appropriate regional accents.

You can see the Thinking Head at Synthetic Times, an art and technology exhibition staged by the National Art Museum of China in association with the Beijing Olympics.