In five or six years, you probably will be able to chat face-to-face with your favorite actor, musician or politician whenever you feel like it.

The technology for such virtual, three-dimensional visits mostly exists or is being developed by video game companies. Now, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago are at work to apply this to virtual conversations.

Working with colleagues at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, the computer scientists have a three-year, half-million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation to do the job.

Graphics technology is already good enough to create realistic-looking human avatars in 3-D, said Jason Leigh, director of UIC's Electronic Visualization Laboratory. Speech recognition is better than 90 percent accurate, and imaging-processing speeds by computers are close to real time.

"The goal is to combine artificial intelligence with the latest advanced computer graphics and video game technology to enable us to create historical archives of people beyond what can be achieved using traditional text, audio and video footage," Leigh said.

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