January 18, 2011: UIC/EVL's Jason Leigh on PBS

Your body can't live forever, says computer scientist Jason Leigh, but your mind still can -- as an avatar. Leigh, a professor in the Department of Computer Science and the director of the Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL) at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has a novel way to achieve immortality -- by creating a lifelike avatar of himself.

Leigh is profiled on the NOVA scienceNOW episode of "Can We Live Forever?", which airs January 26, 2011, on PBS television. Check your local listings for the exact time.

The show's host, Neil deGrasse Tyson, examines whether we can slow down the aging process, looks at the latest on human hibernation, and takes a lighthearted look at whether the tricks that have kept a 1966 Volvo running for 2.7 million miles can also help the human body go the extra mile. One segment profiles Leigh and Project LifeLike, in which Leigh and his students are pioneering avatar technology that will allow individuals to impart their wisdom, humor, and unique insight long after they are gone. (We are told that the segment is second to last in this episode.)

The NOVA scienceNOW production crew first visited EVL in December 2009 and returned in January 2010 for three grueling days of filming. They wanted to get to know Jason both professionally and personally, in order to better understand what excites him and feeds his creative thought processes. It will be interesting to see how 30+ hours of video shot on location will be condensed for a 10-minute TV segment! Leigh is one of several young researchers being profiled as part of this PBS series, with the goal of inspiring teenagers and young adults to pursue careers in science and engineering.

For more information, see:

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About Jason Leigh

Jason Leigh is a Professor of Computer Science and Director of the Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL) and the Software Technologies Research Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Some of the current and prior projects and research for which he is best known include: LifeLike, Cyber-Commons, SAGE, OptIPuter, GeoWall, CoreWall, LambdaVision, Tele-Immersion, and Reliable Blast UDP. His current research focuses on ultra-resolution display-rich collaboration environments amplified by high-performance computing and networking. Leigh also teaches computer science courses in Video Game Design and Development, and in Software Design.

About Project LifeLike

?Project LifeLike? is a collaboration between the Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL) and Communications Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and the Intelligent Systems Laboratory (ISL) at the University of Central Florida (UCF), and receives major funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF). This collaborative research project investigates, develops and evaluates lifelike, natural computer interfaces as portals to intelligent programs in the context of a Decision Support System (DSS). The goal of this effort is to provide a natural interface that supports realistic spoken dialog and non-verbal cues that is capable of learning to keep its knowledge current and correct. Research objectives focus on the development of an avatar-based interface with which the DSS user can interact. Communication with the avatar will occur in spoken natural language combined with gestural expressions or pointing on the screen. Speaker-independent continuous speech input as a spontaneous dialog will be supported within the specified DSS domain. A robust backend that can respond intelligently to the questions asked by the DSS user will generate the responses spoken in reply by the avatar with realistic inflection and visual expressions. For more information, see: http://www.evl.uic.edu/core.php?mod=4&type=1&indi=331

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Photo: Jason Leigh and his avatar (Photo courtesy of PBS NOVA scienceNOW)

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