The term “agent” in this case comes from the field of computer science and it refers to small programs (software agents) that are highly Independent, and are used to perform a number of tasks with title or no human Intervention. The purpose of anthropomorphic agents therefore Is to 1) make communication between the computer and the user more “human-like” and 2) to increase the automation of tasks.
While many people find that anthropomorphic design Is useful because they believe it promotes positive attitudes and engages the user, many people have found that anthropomorphic design is distracting and inappropriately reduces user control and responsibility. To address these deferent perspectives, numerous research studies have been undertaken to evaluate the effectiveness of anthropomorphic agents. Unfortunately for both sides, the results have not been black and white. In some studies, such as that of Lester et al. 1 997), performance has Increased after a period of interaction with an animated agent, as compared with the same program without an agent. However, In other cases, such as that of Eden and van Mullen (2000), there has been no notable difference in performance between those participants interacting with anthropomorphic agents and those interacting with a text-based system. With these contradictory results, it has been difficult for educators and Interface designers to be completely sold on the Importance of anthropomorphic design.
II. Overview of Anthropomorphic Design 3 A. Key interface design considerations 1 . The Role of the Agent Anthropomorphic agents can have many different roles that range from being a guide on the side, activated only at the user’s request, to an ever present tutor helping the user to answer questions and resolve problems. Deciding what role the agent will have in the program is the most important step in the development process. An agent that performs an inappropriate role will only result in user rustication and anxiety.