“Is she real?”
“Um, is it a real person?”
“Is Susie real?”
We have been asked this question many times. Often, Susie will be standing right there when someone asks it. We used to bristle and explain that Susie could hear. After all, if someone can be searched by TSA, doesn’t that make her real?
After hearing questions about Susie multiple times, however, we have come to understand that what people really want to know is whether they are talking to a human or a bot. Though they find her attractive, they are not sure they want to speak to a computer program. And indeed, if you Google “virtual writing tutor,” what you are likely to find is a program that will allow you to type in some text to run through a spell/grammar checker. These programs are rarely as useful as the user would like them to be, and they certainly can’t respond to questions on an individual basis, with a unique voice and personality. Even Cleverbot is not clever enough to do this.
So, because Susie can do all of the above, she is as real as you or I.
But of course she is an avatar as well, and because she is an avatar, we had to think about how people would respond to her. To read more about responses to avatars, see the Uncanny Valley. To find out how our tutors feel about "being" Susie, see Tutor Responses, and to find out how students respond to Susie, see Student Responses.