OK, this is bizarre. Apparently a Hong Kong software company is preparing to release a Virtual Girlfriend for high-res mobile phones. It—or I suppose I should say “she”—is structured as an online game, on the virtual pet model. (Remember the tamagotchi fad?) You hold conversations with “Vivienne,” give her virtual gifts, even work up to a virtual wedding—which adds a virtual mother-in-law to the game.
The graphics are nice, and apparently they’ve put together a very elaborate conversation engine, but I have to wonder who this will really appeal to. The way she’s described she’s pretty high-maintenance—why go to all that effort when you don’t get the benefit of a real person?
Of course, there are other possibilities for the technology:
Vivienne, for instance, will double as a translator for travelers. Type in the desired words in English while traveling and, with additional programming in the next few months, her synthesized voice will coo it back in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, German, Spanish or Italian.
Just as games have driven desktop computing to keep pushing the envelope, this could lead the way toward the conversational interfaces that are so prevalent in science-fiction.