PCMag: IBM Watson Helps University Students Learn Mandarin

Posted August 9, 2019
Student talking with an AI agent in the CIR.
The Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, New York, is using IBM Watson technology to provide an immersive, real-life experience using avatars to teach students Mandarin.

Universities have come a long way in their language studies, moving beyond just traditional classes in a lecture hall and prerecorded lessons without interaction. Now students have access to technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP) in an immersive learning environment. That is what's happening at the Cognitive and Immersive Systems Lab (CISL) on the Troy, New York, campus of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). It's here that the institute has teamed up with IBM Research to create the tech for a six-week summer course in which the students interact with AI agents in environments that include street markets and restaurants.

The course, entitled "AI-Assisted Immersive Chinese," features a 360-degree panoramic display system of computer-generated scenes in the lab's Cognitive Immersive Room (CIR), which is also called the "Situations Room." The virtual scenes take place in China. Students converse with avatars that are powered by Watson Assistant and get corrected on their speech and pronunciation. In the CIR, students use conversational AI, narrative generation, spatial context awareness, and gesture and facial recognition tech.

The CIR is an example of the diverse range of potential for IBM Watson in several industries in addition to education. These industries include agriculture, human resources (HR), and fleet management.


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