The whole application of the fine arts to the representation of men is based on the principle that the minds of those who are represented may be indicated by their forms.

Paget, Quarterly Review, 1856


It is not surprising that artists are typically given the task of designing the physical appearance of embodied agents. Media artists are skilled at exploiting the physical characteristics of their characters for artistic effect. In the popular media, good guys and bad guys, intellectuals and bumbling idiots, are immediately recognizable. This is because the morphology of bodies and faces is inscribed with social meaning.


We propose that agents take over the job of the artist and learn to create their own socially meaningful embodiment. We focus on the face as it forms the locus of many of our social interactions and cultural experiences. A number of researchers have begun to investigate the cultural aspects of faces for agents. One area that has received considerable attention concerns facial expressiveness, especially as it enhances the believability of the agent. The face, however, is a complex communication system where transitory signals, such as emotional displays, facial posturing, and other behaviors, modulate a morphology that is also pregnant with meaning. As Bruce has remarked, when shown a face, not only are we prepared to judge a person’s emotional state, but also their “personality traits, probably employment and possible fate.” Visual artists use the morphology of the face as a language for rapidly communicating all this information and more about the characters they are portraying.


There is no reason to assume that a particular agent’s embodiment must be singular or static or that it must be designed offline by human beings. Facial morphology could be as expressive a channel of communication for embodied agents as are emotional facial displays. Like countless others who each morning prepare their faces to meet the demands of their day, so embodied agents could learn to construct social masks that are appropriate for the situations they encounter, the users they meet, and the tasks they need to accomplish.


To learn more about our research objectives and some small steps we have taken in this direction, check out some of our papers.




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