MSU Awarded Innovation Challenge Grant to Develop Chatbot for Broadcasters

Dean Prabu David is among the researchers exploring a new technological advancement called Deep Talk.

From an article on WKAR

WKAR Public Media Teams Up With Communication and Engineering Researchers to Develop AI Prototype for TV and Radio

Michigan State University has been awarded a grant by the National Association of Broadcasters to develop an artificial intelligence prototype for use in local television and radio. PILOT, NAB's technology innovation initiative, announced the winners for the fourth annual PILOT Innovation Challenge in January.

The 2019 Innovation Challenge award to MSU will support the development of DeepTalk, a conversational agent that can be trained through deep learning to deliver news in the voice of a local broadcaster.

DeepTalk is a project of WKAR Public Media's NextGen Media Innovation Lab, the College of Communication Arts and Sciences, the I-Probe Lab, and the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at MSU.

“Imagine as a listener being able to choose whose voice delivers your local news and weather updates on your smart speaker,” said Susi Elkins, general manager at WKAR Public Media. “Does that interaction strengthen the connection between the broadcaster and the listener? That’s just one area we’d like to explore.”

“With DeepTalk, a broadcaster can transfer the voice and style of on-air talent to a conversational agent, thus creating compelling human-computer interactions,” said Prabu David, dean of the College of Communication Arts and Sciences at MSU. “This project moves us a step forward in our ongoing efforts to understand our own reactions to the human-like features of computers, chatbots and conversational agents.”

“DeepTalk will help us study the impact of realistic-sounding synthetic voices on human emotion and comprehension,” said Arun Ross, a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. “For example, are listeners more likely to believe fake news when delivered in the style and voice of their favorite newscaster?”

Individuals, teams, companies, academic institutions and nonprofit organizations submitted concepts to address the 2019 PILOT Innovation Challenge, which is to build an AI character that can have conversations with individual viewers, listeners or consumers.

Two awards were announced for 2019. The other winner was the department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota, for Jukebot, a chatbot capable of answering simple questions and getting feedback from users for music stations.

“We are pleased with the quality and innovation of this year’s submissions as well as the success of our new approach to the Innovation Challenge,” said PILOT Executive Director John Clark. “We look forward to working with the winners to develop their prototypes and ultimately provide broadcasters the ability to better serve their communities through AI.”

PILOT is allocating a total of $150,000 among the two winners. Winners will also receive relevant mentorship, ongoing feedback during development and a trip to the annual NAB Show, held April 18-22 in Las Vegas, to demonstrate their prototype.

"The possibility of building a technology that can be customized by subscribers for their own use is exciting!" said Professor Arun Ross, of MSU's Department of Computer Science and Engineering. "AI will allow subscribers to better relate to the broadcasting industry and vice-versa. This level of engagement can lead to a broader audience and a more engaged society."