Handshake Relational Agents are computational artifacts designed to build and maintain long-term, social-emotional relationships with their users. Central to the notion of relationship is that it is a persistent construct, spanning multiple interactions, thus Relational Agents are explicitly designed to remember past history and manage future expectations in their interactions with users. 

Since face-to-face conversation is the primary context of relationship building for humans, our work focuses on relational agents as a specialized kind of embodied conversational agent, which are animated humanoid software agents that use speech, gaze, gesture, intonation and other nonverbal modalities to emulate the experience of human face-to-face conversation. 

The theory of relational agents includes a multidimensional model of human-computer relationships, a taxonomy of verbal and nonverbal strategies which can be used by a relational agent to move the relationship in a desired direction, and a dialogue planner which can plan conversational strategies that work towards the achievement of both task goals and relational goals.

Preliminary work in this area has focused on the use of small talk by a relational agent within the context of a service encounter, such as real estate sales. In an experiment conducted with 31 subjects in the summer of 2000 we found that the use of social dialog by an agent made some users (extroverts in particular) trust the agent more than when it only talked about the task being performed. Establishing such trust is essential as computers start to help people with important tasks such as improving their health or buying a home.

Current work is focused on the development of Relational Agents in health behavior change applications. We are conducting a large-scale study to evaluate the effectiveness of relationship building on compliance with an exercise adoption program, in which the agent plays the role of a fitness advisor. 


Cassell, J., Bickmore, (in press) "Negotiated    Collusion: Modeling Social Language and its  Relationship Effects in Intelligent Agents" User  Modeling and Adaptive Interfaces. [PDF

Bickmore, T. and Cassell, J.  "Relational Agents: A Model and Implementation of Building User Trust."  ACM CHI 2001 Conference Proceedings, Seattle, Washington, 2001.  [PDF

Cassell, J. and Bickmore, T.  “External Manifestations of Trustworthiness in the Interface” Communications of the ACM 43(12). [Abstract] [PDF

Bickmore, T. and Cassell, J. "'How about this weather?' - Social Dialogue with Embodied Conversational Agents." Proceedings of the AAAI Fall Symposium on Socially Intelligent Agents. North Falmouth, MA, 2000. [PDF

Project Team:

Timothy Bickmore