Carnegie Mellon raises Charles Darwin from the dead

US university bring Darwin back to life

If Charles Darwin where alive today, about 200 years after he was born, he'd have a few things to say. That's the thinking behind a project from Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center and Duquesne University that virtually brings the British naturalist and father of evolution theory back to life.

CMU's 10-year-old Synthetic Interview Technology (or in this case, Darwin Synthetic Interview) is behind the new "Ask Darwin" exhibit at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, which also celebrates the 150th anniversary of "On the Origin of Species" being published.. The project involves processing 15 hours of videotaped responses by Darwin's ghost, portrayed by an actor who is seen as a life-size projection of Darwin standing in his study. Additional footage of 13 modern science experts enables those interviewing Darwin to get the latest takes on Darwinian issues as well. Visitors can choose from 199 questions on topics ranging from scientific to personal, and which were based on surveys conducted of kids and adults in the Pittsburgh area.

"A synthetic interview enables users to interact with video clips so they can explore questions and topics that intrigue or trouble them, rather than passively view a film that simply provides an overview," said Don Marinelli, executive producer of the ETC, in a statement.

A Web-based version of Ask Darwin is also in the works, though hopefully won't suffer any of the risqué issues associated with Microsoft's notorious potty-mouth Santa of a couple of Christmases ago. We recall having a little fun with an interactive NASCAR program powered by CMU's Synthetic Interview Technology as well.

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