My name is Merijn Bruijnes, I was born in the Netherlands in a small village near Zwolle in 1984. From an early age I found everything interesting and as a child I already conducted small ‘experiments’. I started my academic career in 2004, by studying mechanical engineering and psychology at the University of Twente in Enschede. I received my master’s degree at the department Cognitive Psychology and Ergonomics (CPE) in 2011, studying development of spatial mental representations in an embodied artificial neural network using sequential and egocentric data (thesis). After graduating, I joined Human Media Interaction (HMI) to do my PhD research. The topic of my PhD research is social signals in interaction between humans and artificial agents.
I work on the model-based generation of consistent emotional turn-taking behavior in virtual human conversations and the evaluation of this behavior. Natural interaction with an embodied conversational agent (ECA) is something that has proven to be difficult to achieve. In particular, turn-taking in a conversation between an ECA and a human is often very unnatural. Agents that immediately halt speech when the user speaks are abundant and the same goes for systems that only pay attention to the user at a system-determined time. This is workable, but it needs to be better for many applications such as tutoring applications.
My research will be applied in a training simulator for the police. Here, trainees can practice their conversational skills with an artificial conversational agent. I want to investigate what constitutes natural turn-taking behavior in humans. With this knowledge I want to generate convincing social (turn-taking) behavior in artificial conversational agents. My vision is that in 20 years, I will be able to just sit down with a virtual agent and have a good conversation.