Computer acts more like human in cybercafe test

Digital Equipment Corp. says it has created a personal computer that behaves more like humans by delivering information once it senses the presence of a person standing before it.

The machine, now being tested at a so-called cybercafe in Cambridge, Mass. doesn't have a keyboard or a mouse. Instead, an animated figure begins speaking once it detects a human, and instructs users to select information by pressing on the computer screen.

The company's plan is to market what it calls the "smart kiosk" to retailers, banks and other businesses that need to deliver lots of information to customers through a computer, said Robert Supnik, the Digital researcher involved in creating the technology behind the machine. As a human approaches the kiosk, a camera mounted on the machine senses whether the person is slowing down. If so, the animated figure -- complete with facial expressions to match the scripted speech -- greets the person and begins engaging the person in conversation. A shopping mall, for example, would benefit by having the computer direct people to stores and services, Supnik said.

Maynard, Mass.-based Digital plans to complete its testing of the machine next year, with sales beginning in 1999, Supnik said.