Katherine Isbister, 30
NTT Open Laboratory
Two hot areas of software design today are intelligent agents to find information and conduct transactions, and realistic depiction of characters (as in movies and video games).What happens when these two pursuits intersect? We get intelligent agents that we can interact with just as we do with people. Having such animated agents may change the way we access the Web and carry on dialogues with people in other cultures. One of the folks hatching such virtual conversationalists is Katherine Isbister.
Animated agents are a natural for communication across cultural barriers, since the agents could store large amounts of information to help the participants understand each other--literally, in
language, and also more subtly in culture. Isbister is in the midst of such a collaboration, working at NTT Open Laboratory in Japan. Using a high-speed link between Kyoto and Stanford, she has two students converse across the Pacific, aided by computer characters. Isbister does not just create innovative new interfaces. She also uses social-science methods to study them and draw conclusions about how to improve them. As the world of Web interface design "moves from seat-of-the-pants theorizing to demanding rigorous guidance, Katherine will be a leader," says Clifford Nass of Stanford, who supervised her dissertation there.