05 Oct 2009

Bored with reading the instructions? Watch and listen instead!

Medication information leaflets may soon be more than just a piece of paper in a box. New research at The Open University aims to change the way information is conveyed by translating text into dialogue, while preserving clarity and meaning. The EPSRC-funded project, Coherent Dialogue Automatically Generated from Text (CODA), will develop the theory and technology for automatic text conversion, and is specifically aimed at creating conversations between lay people and experts, for example a patient and doctor.

Despite evidence supporting the fact that dialogue is more effective than monologue in tutoring and persuasive communication, most information is still locked up in text, including books, leaflets or web pages.

Dr Paul Piwek, Principal Investigator and Lecturer in Computing at The Open University, said: “Text-to-dialogue generation technology can play an important role in making information available in a form that best meets people's needs when processing information. Dialogue is much more suitable for new multimedia presentation styles and can, for example, be performed by digital computer-animated characters.”

Dialogue is extremely versatile and can be presented as text, similar to frequently asked questions, or by a team of human-like computer-animated characters with automatic speech synthesis. Interaction could be through personal digital assistants, third and fourth generation mobile phones, set-top boxes, digital TV or other new content delivery technologies.

“Our project will focus on retaining cohesion and meaning in the transformation from text to dialogue, which is critical for many applications. In healthcare for example, a complicated printed medication leaflet could be presented as a conversation between a computer-animated pharmacist and patient, but it is crucial that the new presentation format should not alter the content by adding, removing or changing any information,” Dr Piwek concluded.

Dr Piwek is supported by a Research Associate, Dr Svetlana Stoyanchev, and a Visiting Researcher, Dr Helmut Prendinger. Dr Prendinger is Associate Professor at the National Institute of Informatics in Tokyo. The project, with a two year grant of £172K, is due for completion in 2011. The research will help realise the Government’s Council for Science and Technology’s (CST) aim of providing people with services and information when, where and, especially, how they need it.

Editor's Notes
• The Open University climbed 23 places to 43rd in the UK’s latest Research Assessment Exercise (RAE 2008), securing a place in the UK’s top 50 higher education institutions. Results showed that more than 50% of the University’s research is internationally excellent (3*), with a significant proportion world-leading (4*).

• There has been a 75% growth in competitively awarded research income at the OU over the last five years - a robust measure of our increasing research excellence.

• The Open University is the UK’s largest university and the world leader in distance education, and is this year celebrating its 40th anniversary. It has more than 200,000 students in over 40 countries. Of these, more than 1,100 are postgraduate research students.

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